House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

10:00 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

This year's budget is a pivotal one in the future of agriculture. We announced a targeted plan to go towards agriculture's ambitious goal of reaching $100 billion by 2030—a plan with seven key pillars—and we backed it with cold, hard cash, making sure we understood what will drive agriculture to grow from a $61 billion industry to a $100 billion industry over the next 10 years. I've got to say that agriculture has done its bit of heavy lifting, despite drought, fire and flood. We have, in fact, gone ahead this year—from $60 billion to $61 billion. Despite the headwinds that have been there, agriculture continues to support the nation's economy not just during COVID; it will help us accelerate out of this COVID recession even more quickly. But it was important that the government itself put a structured plan around Ag2030 and the NFF's plan of a $100 billion industry, and those seven pillars are very important.

The first one is around trade and exports. We understand we're a nation of 25 million people. We produce enough food for 75 million. If we don't engage with the world and trade with the world, we don't need farmers and we don't need regional communities that support our farmers. So we put real cash—over $300 million—into streamlining our trade platforms to make sure that farmers and exporters can do it even more quickly and simply with one simple touchpoint. We're issuing over 200,000 export certificates a year at the moment in manual form. We want to go back to a digital platform that makes that easier. We're doing complementary measures and, in fact, we've announced that, and I have to congratulate AMIC, as the peak meat-processing body, for working through regulatory reform that streamlines it. It'll save that industry over $40 million a year. As well, just yesterday we finalised the live trade complementary measures, which will save that industry around $5 million a year. We expect, over the next 10 years, potentially about $1.2 billion to go back to the industry from these measures.

There's over $873 million in this budget going towards the second pillar, which is biosecurity. We want to protect brand Australia. We're doing that with more paws on the ground and more boots on the ground, but also with technology—X-ray technology. We're also working with Home Affairs at our ports to be able to use X-ray technology that will use artificial intelligence to look for both contraband for Home Affairs and also biosecurity risks for us. So it is just using common sense.

We'll continue on with our stewardship program, worth $34 million in the last budget, and ANU is now finalising the methodology so we'll be able to go to a pilot program early next year. That's on target to be achieved by the end of this year so it will have that pilot ready to start early in the new year.

We're also working through supply chains and understanding the importance of supply chains for Australian agriculture. That forms part of what the industry minister announced around manufacturing, making sure we invest and we look at even the vulnerabilities that we've seen through COVID-19 in agricultural inputs, not just the outputs. It's important we look holistically at that approach. We continue to look at country-of-origin labelling, which is very important in making sure that Australians are empowered to make decisions that support Australian farmers. The review into that has started, and we're looking to possibly extend that to seafood and cut flowers. I've challenged the fast-food outlets to have that on their boards. McDonald's has taken that up, and I think Hungry Jack's is very close. That's important in empowering consumers. Multinational organisations can have a significant role in empowering that.

We're also looking at infrastructure. Around an extra $2 billion is going into water infrastructure to help the states build the dams. It's their constitutional responsibility to build the water infrastructure, but we're not going to cut and run. We're going to give them the money to go and start to plumb the nation. It's an important investment because, if we get the water, we will grow the agricultural sector.

Innovation and research is the six pillar—and very important to me. In fact, we've just gone to tender for eight new innovation hubs to be located in regional areas across the country—not in sandstone universities but out in the regions, where the adoption of that research can be taken up. It is very important that we get our farmers to understand the tools that we are trying to give them in a changing climate to produce even more. The last pillar is the most important one, as it is about our human capital, our people: an investment in education, reducing universities costs by 59 per cent for agricultural courses. In addition, the education minister announced an extra $200 million for short courses that agricultural students can take.

So this is a holistic approach. It is about our government putting the shoulder to the wheel with the agricultural sector in achieving their goal of $100 billion by 2030.

10:05 am

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to participate in this consideration in detail debate. I will start by submitting to the minister an enthusiastic declaration: on our side, we have a number of very energetic, passionate and committed advocates for regional Australia who are here today, alongside myself. I have been very fortunate to be given the shadow ministerial responsibility for the agriculture portfolio, and I very much look forward to engaging with the regions on this issue. If it's okay, Minister, we would prefer to submit a range of questions to you without necessarily going through the five, and I would hope that our regional representatives are able to submit quick questions to your good self.

My concern, or the issue that I'm very much focused on—and the minister is fully aware of this—is in relation to biosecurity. Biosecurity does matter and, as we know, particularly through the course of a pandemic. It has been made patently clear through a series of reports, that we need to ensure that the Department of Agriculture and the minister, in particular, are ready to deal with emerging or known biosecurity threats. My question to the minister relates particularly to reports around the prevention of the entry into Australia of African swine flu and the need for the department to review and bring the government's attention to the effect of resourcing levels. We have had the CSIRO report which says that, while the current models have served us well, we need to handle the growing biosecurity threats that the nation faces. My question, given that there is no more sharper time to consider these issues given what we have gone through in terms of the pandemic and the failings around the Ruby Princess and Al Kuwait, is: what has the department and minister done to ensure that biosecurity issues will get their full attention and that the department will be able to manage those in terms of protecting the health of the nation? How can the Australian people be reassured that the minister and department are prioritising biosecurity obligations when the department hasn't, in some instances, even accepted that it has a responsibility for human health as a department?

10:08 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

There are 873 million reasons that this government has continued and will continue to support biosecurity. The $873 million has also been targeted around ASF, African swine flu. There was $66.6 million was put into surge capacity. That was about putting more paws on the ground, boots on the ground, and about X-ray machines—and we will continue to invest in not just boots on the ground but also technology. That CSIRO report you mentioned clearly articulates the importance of technology in protecting biosecurity in this country, and we will continue to invest in that—in fact, we already have. We now have scanners that are actually in many containers that help us identify any insects or pests that are in there. We have underwater drones that go underneath ships to ensure there is nothing that has hitchhiked its way across the seas to Australia. Those investments will continue over the forward estimates as we work with the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. It's important that we do that, because he plays a pivotal role in making sure that the regulatory approach is firm and the guiderails are kept—and the department undertakes that.

With respect to human biosecurity, I think it's important that the shadow minister delves a little further into the Biosecurity Act, because the agriculture department only looks after the biosecurity of plants and animals. The Biosecurity Act clearly goes further, where the health department then intercepts and human health biosecurity plays in. When we talk about the reports, particularly into the Ruby Princess, it is quite clear that Mr Walker laid the blame at the feet of NSW Health. It was very clear. He was very strong in his language. I have to say that the New South Wales government has been very mature in accepting the recommendations and moving on. In fact, we work with them in ensuring that protocols are tightened. The granting of pratique is formalised at NSW Health, who are the health experts, and they make sure that they have formally provided that in writing, rather than by text or verbally. I have to acknowledge that the Western Australian Premier, to his credit, acknowledged he got it wrong and that we had followed our processes at the department of agriculture.

To the shadow minister: before he makes assertions, it's important that he should, in fact, read the full Biosecurity Act and delve further into it and understand that the department of agriculture looks after the biosecurity of plants and animals; it does not do human health. That is not what we are trained to do. We don't have doctors and we don't have medical professionals in the department of agriculture; we have veterinarians and biologists—people who are focused on plants and animals. That's our job. That's what we do well. We are continually vigilant about biosecurity and we will continue to be, because that does protect brand Australia. The investments that we're making are pivotal. We will continue to work with the I-G and the department about any further investments we need to make, particularly if surge capacity is required for a specific pest, as we did with ASF. We did that quite quickly, with $66.6 million straight off the bat to make sure we got out and got the job done. That risk is still there. It's now in Papua New Guinea. In fact, we're working with DFAT around making sure that we can help PNG deal with that issue as well.

Also, the number of passenger flights that come in have reduced. We have moved our biosecurity officers around to other areas where greater capacity is needed, and that's normally, at this stage, at ports, where we have surge capacity with our staff. The department has been agile with respect to using those biosecurity officers to make sure that we protect ourselves against risk. We'll continue to do that, but we will take the best scientific advice of our biosecurity officers, who are world's best. But we have to be pragmatic and honest in that the challenge will continue, as that CSIRO report has clearly articulated, and the government stands ready to take the best advice and make the investments it needs to ensure we protect not just agriculture but our entire environment, because it's not just agriculture that's at risk from this.

10:12 am

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I find the minister's comments extraordinary, given what is happening with coronavirus. It is mutating in Denmark. Coronavirus is transferring from minks. They are now worried that we will have a third wave of a different strain. Equally, we had the Victorian outbreak and the worst ever outbreak of avian flu, and the minister just dismisses the concerns that are being raised by our shadow minister in relation to biosecurity. The coronavirus is infecting humans. We don't know the risk this mutation overseas will pose to Australians. We also now have an outbreak in the poultry industry in Victoria which is the worst outbreak we have ever seen. The fact that the minister is flippantly dismissing it and saying it's somebody else's job is really quite alarming.

My questions today are actually about workforce and this government's failure to address the workforce issues. The borders were shut in March, and Ernst & Young said, through their own research, that there is a shortfall of at least 26,000 workers required for fruit and vegetable picking. That's what our farmers are telling us, that's what we know and that's what's been reported over and over. The minister claims that 22,000 workers are on their way. I have a series of questions in relation to this claim. First of all, why has it taken so long? We knew in March that this would be an issue. Here we are in November and we're still talking about 22,000 workers being on their way. When will they arrive? That is the first question. Why is it taking so long? Why has it taken your department so long to organise this when we knew the borders had been closed? Minister, where are the workers coming from? Do you agree with the member for Nicholls that we should bring them from Asia, where coronavirus is rampant? Are we going to bring backpackers from Asia to this country to work on the farms?

How much will it cost these workers to be here?

I just want to highlight some of the concerns that are being raised. This is another question for the minister. Are the few workers who have come from the Pacific the workers who were going to come anyway, and now they just have to bear the extra costs? In one case, $1,500 per person was charged to workers for chartered flights. Those workers, when they finish their quarantine and start working, will essentially be working for free to pay back their flight costs. Minister, is this fair? These guest workers who come here to help our farm workers out are having to work for free to pay for their flight costs. Are the workers who are quarantining on an Emerald farm paying for their own quarantine? Will they be, again, essentially working for free on our farms to pay for quarantine costs? What has the department done to ensure that these workers are not being disadvantaged and ripped off?

That brings me to another issue, around health care and these workers. We have had the tragedy of people who are here on the Pacific Labour Scheme dying—being diagnosed with cancer and not getting the health care they require because of the insurance that they've got. There have been disputes with Bupa and people dying. These are guest workers. What are the minister and the department doing, through the labour hire scheme, to ensure any worker coming here has quality health care, is being protected and is not dying on Australian shores?

My next question goes to the alarming report that a business that was established, AgriAus, said: 'Okay, Australians, there's work on the farms. Let's recruit you and link you to the jobs.' There were 1,500 applications from Australians wanting to work on farms, yet they couldn't find one farm that would take them on. When the company dug a bit deeper and asked farmers why, they were told, 'Because they're lazy'—not that they'd interviewed any of these workers to see what their work history was—and 'We'd have to pay them.' Minister, do you endorse farmers saying, 'We don't want to hire Australians because we'd have to pay them'? Minister, how rampant is the underpayment of foreign workers? Is the reason why the farmers are not giving these 1,500 Australians a go the ugly secret in agriculture—that we bring foreign workers here who don't know what their rights are and they are exploited? Minister, what are you doing to ensure that there is labour market testing so that an Australian, if they want a job, can get a job in agriculture? Why is it still the culture of these farmers and your industry that, when it's being shut down because of the close of borders, Australians aren't getting jobs and they're still saying, 'We need to bring backpackers here from Asia instead of giving these Australians a go'? You say that your department is on top of this, that 22,000 workers are here. Why are you putting those foreign workers before Australian workers who want to have a go in agriculture?

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call the minister, I just remind members that, under the arrangements that have been put in place, at 10.20 we are meant to be moving to the environment aspects of this portfolio and at 10.40 to the resources, water and northern Australia segment. But members are still able to speak and ask questions, so long as they are relevant, about any part of the portfolio under consideration this morning.

10:18 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just caution the member on besmirching farmers in a broadscale way like that. Within any industry, there are always those, a small minority, who cut corners. But to broadly suggest that farmers are manipulating and in fact exploiting people is disgraceful and shows that you have turned your back on regional and rural Australia.

But let me answer these questions about quarantine. I would have thought the member, as a Victorian, bitterly understood the arrangements that the federal and state governments undertook about quarantining, because we had this little cluster down in Victoria created by the Victorian government, which couldn't handle the quarantining arrangements, because the states had taken it up. It is now up to each state to define their quarantining arrangements for those 22,000 prevetted workers to come in. Unfortunately what the member fails to acknowledge is that the state governments took up this responsibility, and the cost, from the start. They are working in partnership—

Ms Chesters interjecting

Most states are. As you articulated in your comments, Queensland has already brought them in, because the Chief Medical Officer in Queensland has allowed them to quarantine on farm. In the Northern Territory they are quarantining at Howard Springs. Those costs are an arrangement between the state government and industry themselves, so to try and come in here and say that the federal government has done nothing—I am sorry, since March we have, in fact, extended the visas of those Pacific, seasonal and working holiday makers for 12 months if they work in ag. Then in August we opened up the program. But we are still waiting on the states to work out their quarantining arrangements, particularly Victoria where they have failed at every level. The Victorian government has failed and, in fact, cost the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars, because of their ineptitude to be able to handle quarantine. The response to the bill they put up is a disgrace. That is the problem that we face and that is the one that will get these workers in other states—when they finally work out their quarantine arrangements. Some states have. The smallest jurisdiction, the Northern Territory, can do it, but Victoria still can't work out what they want to do. They don't know how they're going to quarantine. They are the ones that are holding up the workers for coming in.

These jobs are market tested. There is a Harvest Trail website that has been created. They must be tested for Australians to do it first. We are incentivising Australians, by claiming up to $6,000 in travel expenses, to go and take these jobs up. But farmers don't have the luxury to sit around and wait for someone to turn up. When their crop is ready they have to get it off the paddock and on to your plate. That is a little detail that those opposite—not knowing what happens in regional and rural Australia—seem to forget. This is the responsibility.

We will work with the states. Sadly, not all states can do it, but some have and not all of them are coalition states. Some states have been forward leaning on this. But there have been complete failures by the Victorian government. Your Victorian government has failed agriculture, failed to be able to support agriculture in supplying workers. That is the issue at play around getting those 22,000 pre-vetted employees across. It's as easy as that, but Victoria cannot get their chief medical officer to come forward and provide a quarantine solution, because they don't have the confidence because they failed before.

10:21 am

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to be here as part of this consideration in detail to inform and promote the work that is being done in the agriculture portfolio. I am delighted that the member for Wentworth is joining me to, again, defend, if we need to—although I am sure the messages coming from the other side will be a broad endorsement of our approach. It's very unclear what the Labor Party's approach is in the environment because we haven't seen detailed policy. However, in the government we have a detailed policy, because we know that every Australian knows that our iconic environment is front and centre and part of our national identity. We're committed to protecting and preserving it for future generations. What that means is practical and meaningful action to preserve, protect and restore the environment.

That proud and strong record continues a coalition track record on the environment with comprehensive policies that we've reconfirmed during this year's budget. They deliver crucial environmental recovery and restoration activities with an additional $1.8 billion over five years in brand new investments. We have invested the single biggest amount ever in Australia's Commonwealth national parks with more than $233 million injected into tourism and other infrastructure. This funding will upgrade park sites across Uluru, Kakadu, Booderee, Christmas and Norfolk Islands, creating thousands of jobs for regional communities. Yes, that does link to the environment because those tourists come to see our unique and special natural environment.

That's in addition to the $216 million we pledged last year to upgrade and remediate Kakadu National Park. We are helping our tourism industry come back better by enhancing more of our magnificent heritage-listed sites across the country, such as Budj Bim in Victoria, the first ever site listed on the World Heritage List for its Indigenous cultural values, and how proud that moment was. The Gondwana rainforest and the Tasmanian wilderness will all benefit from funding from this year's budget.

Fifty million dollars has been earmarked to begin implementing the first stage of recommendations of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust review, protecting and preserving heritage sites, because, of course, the environment portfolio includes heritage and that includes the built environment as well. We are continuing to rollout our $100 million Environment Restoration Fund. It's supporting large-scale projects across the country, like restoring koala habitat in northern New South Wales and working towards Bruny, Flinders and French Islands to be feral and cat-free.

Our commitment to Antarctica is demonstrated by investments totalling $2.8 billion, including $1.9 billion to deliver and run a new ice breaker over 30 years and build the first permanent runway on the continent. We are the first government to have a comprehensive 20-year strategy for Antarctica. I never heard one coming from the Labor Party in the six years that I saw them in opposition in this place.

Oceans, marine ecosystems and the Great Barrier Reef are of interest to many Australians. Our oceans package of $67 million is being invested to protect our oceans and our marine ecosystems, including $14 million to tackle the impact of ghost nets and $20 million through the relief and recovery fund to establish native oyster reefs, which are about water quality as well as recreational fishing. It is about marine habitat around our coastlines. Building on our international leadership, we are investing in international blue carbon and rainforest partnerships to protect coastal and rainforest ecosystems. We are doing that very well with our Pacific neighbours. That's on top of the $1.9 billion over a decade for the Great Barrier Reef. That includes funding to improve water quality, manage crown-of-thorns starfish, and remove and reduce marine debris and pollution. We've also got an ambitious, world-leading reef restoration and adaptation program. This is unprecedented investment in our reef.

Then there's bushfire recovery. We're committed to recovering, restoring and rehabilitating following the devastating Black Summer bushfires, but we're also readying ourselves for another such event because we know that climate change and longer periods of drought increase the risk and intensity of bushfires. I'm developing plans with the seven fire-scarred areas across Australia, looking at how community groups want to get involved in building back better when it comes to revegetating, and preparing the communities, working closely with the fire agencies and working closely with the natural environment.

We've always lived in a changing environment, and climate adaptation and resilience inform the National Environmental Science Program, which has just received another allocation of close to $150 million to support the work of our scientists who do the critical informative work that underpins the expert science approach to what we do in the Environment portfolio, matched with that fantastic on-the-ground engagement.

10:27 am

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Under this government, Australia's natural environment is in serious decline. Our threatened species and national icons like the koala are under serious threat, exacerbated by the summer's national bushfire crisis. The environment laws are not fit for purpose. The government have made a mess of administering the environmental laws, and now they're making a mess of reviewing them.

Last summer's bushfires caused more than 17 million hectares to be destroyed. Three billion animals were killed or displaced. But, even before the bushfires, Australia had the highest mammal extinction rates in the world. Yet, after the government announced $50 million in immediate so-called support for wildlife harmed by the fires, it dragged its heels in getting that money out the door, with only $19.1 million of it spent in the same fiscal year as the bushfires occurred. Minister, how can Australians trust this government to protect the environment when your government is all about the photo-op and never about the follow-up?

Our threatened species are in decline. Fewer than 40 per cent of threatened species have recovery plans, and the government seems to be completely clueless about whether all the recovery plans that do exist are being implemented properly. The Morrison government recently announced a new 10-year Threatened Species Strategy, but there's no funding attached to it—and it replaced the previous failed five-year strategy. Minister, when will there be a funding commitment to back up the new strategy, and when will the new strategy be in place?

Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act back in May 2012. The government has announced that they are being formally considered for uplisting in the wake of the fires. The government was supposed to create a recovery plan for the koala by 2015, but as at October 2020 that recovery plan still does not exist. It is now five years overdue from the original deadline. The previous Labor government's national koala conservation strategy ran until 2014, and the Liberal-National government has not yet bothered to replace it, so there is no current strategy in force. Minister, how can Australians trust this government to make sure that future generations don't have to resort to reading about koalas in the history books? When will the threatened species recovery plan for the koala be finalised, and what will be done to ensure that its implementation is monitored?

The second 10-yearly statutory review of the EPBC Act is now underway. The interim report released in July recommended immediate reform directions, but the government tabled a bill that was inconsistent with that interim report and instead tabled a bill that was described recently by the then Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, as being a 'Carbon copy of a bill pursued by Prime Minister Abbott in 2014'—a 'carbon copy' of an Abbott-era bill instead of a bill that gave effect to the interim review from respected regulator Graeme Samuel. The final report was due to be provided to the government in October 2020.

Minister, when will the final report be made public? Does the government intend to bring forward legislation that is consistent with the interim report or the final report for this parliament and the Australian people to consider? Will that legislation, if it exists, contain interim national environmental standards, and, if so, will those national environmental standards have the support of a broad cross-section of the Australian community, including environmentalists, business, industry, resources, regulators, lawyers and others, including of course traditional owners? Will the government be proposing an independent compliance body, and, if so, what form will it take? Is the government considering the Academy of Science's proposal for a bureau of biodiversity to substantially increase data collection, which is a serious issue identified in Graeme Samuel's interim report. When can the Australian people expect to hear something meaningful from the government in relation to the interim report's strong concerns about the protection of Indigenous heritage and the imperative to reform decision-making to ensure Indigenous peoples are respected and get a real say in relation to environmental decision-making?

In 2020, the Australian National Audit Office released a scathing report on this government's decision-making under the EPBC Act. Approval delays had blown out by 510 per cent. Seventy-nine per cent of decisions were affected by error or were otherwise non-compliant. In a single financial year, 2018-19, 95 per cent of key decisions were made late. The government have tacitly admitted that it was their longstanding underfunding of the department that caused these delays and problems, by providing additional funding. Minister, will the government apologise to the workers whose jobs have been delayed and the firms whose projects have taken longer to get off the ground because of this government's budget cuts and woeful administration of environmental decision-making?

10:32 am

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust looks after some of the most iconic and precious sites on the Sydney Harbour foreshore—ex-defence sites that were placed into public hands for future generations in an act of considerable foresight at the time by the Howard government. In particular I'd like to acknowledge the efforts of then environment minister Robert Hill and Prime Minister John Howard in having this vision. Since its creation, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has, to my mind, done a remarkable job in rehabilitating these sites, opening them up to the public, making them accessible, activating them and finding a way for them to generate commercial returns whilst remaining true to their purpose. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust looks after some of the amazing sites at Middle Head; former submarine base Platypus at North Head; Cockatoo Island; Woolwich Dock; and, in my own electorate, the Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse and the former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove.

I'm particularly pleased that the government has helped secure the future of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust in this budget, both commissioning the independent review and now providing funding of $40 million in the 2020-21 budget to make up the approximately $50 million recommended by the review to immediately tackle urgent works. This funding will support a range of works to restore and maintain the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust's military, convict, Indigenous and industrial maritime heritage sites, including: repairs, hazardous material removal and decontamination works at 10 Terminal at Middle Head, laying the groundwork for the $10 million already committed for parklands and building restoration works to bring the precinct to life; repairs and safety works for large cranes on Cockatoo Island; upgrades to roofs and gutters and make-safe works to windows at the industrial precinct, including the turbine hall, on Cockatoo Island; restoration and conservation of the World War II era gun emplacements, observation posts and tunnels at the historic North Fort in North Head Sanctuary; restoration works to the exterior of Building 1 Other Ranks' Mess at North Head; and wharf and pontoon upgrades at Woolwich Dock. The funding will also enable the harbour trust to develop a refreshed vision for Cockatoo Island and for North Head Sanctuary.

This funding is in addition to more than $20 million that was made available to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust earlier this year, and comments are now being sought from the community on draft legislation that will make the harbour trust an ongoing entity, rather than a remediate-and-handover entity, and ensure that its board has the right skills and experience for the future and that long-term leases are available when they support the objectives of public access and amenity.

There are two particular recommendations I wanted to touch on and which I think are worth highlighting contained in the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Amendment Bill 2020, which is currently open for public comment. The first one is that the trust should become an ongoing entity. In my view, the trust has proven its worth and its value, and this certainty will allow the trust to plan for the proper management of some of the more difficult sites and difficult issues, including on Cockatoo Island. The second recommendation is to allow for longer leases in certain situations and with appropriate parliamentary and ministerial oversight, which will provide the commercial certainty for the scale of investment needed to rehabilitate and remediate some of these sites. The trust is a lasting legacy of the Howard government and the Morrison government is building on the coalition's strong track record with this year's budget and reaffirming our commitment to protect and preserve our iconic environment through Sydney Harbour.

I also wanted to touch upon funding for Antarctica in this year's budget, and in particular the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, a $2.8 billion action plan which the minister mentioned in her remarks. This funding and this action plan will help us acquire a new icebreaker, will help us construct a permanent runway near Davis research station and will help us construct a year-round research station on Macquarie Island. It's unfortunately true that the status quo in Antarctica can no longer be taken for granted, with some states pushing ahead to establish a presence and facts on the ground. As an Antarctic Treaty claimant state, we have a duty in particular to help preserve our sovereignty over our Australian Antarctic Territory, to maintain Antarctica's freedom from strategic and political confrontation, to protect the Antarctic environment and to conduct world-class scientific research.

There are two other initiatives in the budget I would mention. Firstly, support to recycling and waste reduction, including the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020. Australia does have to do better in this area, and I'm very pleased the government has committed to eliminating the export of unprocessed waste, in consultation with the states and territories. Finally, the Samuel review into the EPBC Act. We've only seen the interim report of that but I think this is important to ensure that the act fulfils its purpose and does its job. My question to the minister is: can the minister please outline and reaffirm the government's commitment to protecting the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust sites and other sites into the future?

10:37 am

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm interested in the government's programming and resources when it comes to national heritage, and specifically Indigenous heritage. I've got some questions for the minister on that. I acknowledge what the member for Wentworth said about the Antarctica program. Obviously there was a lot of foresight by the Gillard government to commission the new icebreaker. It is behind schedule. It means we won't have an operative vessel this summer. The Aurora Australis has been retired and the Nuyina is not yet delivered. The comments the member for Wentworth made about Australia's role in Antarctica are important. It's salient, I think, to reflect on the fact that we've only conducted a very limited number of inspections of bases in our territory since the 1960s. Until recently, that was as few as nine. I think we've changed our approach and we're going to do more of those. That's yet to be seen.

I really want to focus on national Indigenous heritage. There's no doubt that we have a badly inadequate national protection framework for Indigenous cultural heritage. Sadly, we saw that through the tragedy at Juukan Gorge and the caves there earlier this year. We saw sites that had evidence of occupation dating back 46,000 years wantonly destroyed as a result of failures all around—failures by Rio Tinto, but certainly failures when it comes to the Indigenous cultural heritage protection framework at every level, including the Commonwealth level. We did not need the Juukan Gorge tragedy to tell us that that framework is in a state of failure. It has been like that for some considerable time. There have been alarm bells all along the way.

This government itself committed to a review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act in its heritage strategy in 2015. It said that that review would occur by the end of 2017. It never appeared. The northern Australia white paper said that the same review would occur. It never appeared. I'd like to minister to explain what is actually being done in this space. Since the Juukan Gorge cave tragedy and travesty, we've been told that there will be some roundtables, and some of them have already occurred. That's sort of standard government practice when there's a disaster: let's call for some roundtables. There was supposed to be a review and a plan for reform delivered at the end of 2017. That was three years ago. If that had happened, maybe what happened at Juukan Gorge might not have occurred. So I think it is for the government, and certainly for the minister, to explain what actually is being done: what the resources and timetable are to get on with the job that the government tasked itself to complete three years ago, about which it has done absolutely nothing.

The second thing the minister should explain is what actually occurred in her office. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act creates emergency intervention powers for the minister, so that when a state protection framework isn't working the minister can step in and say, 'Hang on a second. We've got to pause.' What happened in this case? The traditional owners contacted the minister's office; they were told they would get a phone call back; and it didn't happen. It was like dropping a stone into a deep and empty well. There wasn't even a splash. Nobody got back to them. As a result, the department wasn't even aware of the prospect of the destruction until after it had occurred.

That is not good enough. Any minister that has emergency intervention powers must have their office set up in such a way that they can respond when that need is triggered. It didn't happen in this case. It's no answer for the minister to say that it was too late. We actually don't know that. It's no answer to say that it was too late, because the next time it happens it might not be too late—if it was in this case, and we don't know that.

What I want the minister to explain is what has she done in her office to address that failure? The first thing would be to acknowledge it. The Prime Minister this week talked about human frailty. We make mistakes. Ministers make mistakes. But things aren't going to improve if people don't have the courage to say, 'That wasn't right. What happened in my office wasn't correct. Someone should have got back to the traditional owners and it didn't happen.'

The CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency, his agency was contacted, and they made a mistake of not reaching out to the department. They acknowledged that when they appeared before the inquiry. They said, 'We made a mistake. We've adopted a new protocol, and here it is, we table it.' Where is the equivalent from the minister? The minister needs to explain how now, going forward, if ever a traditional owner calls her office, it doesn't end up being a case of being told, 'You will get a phone call back from an adviser who's on leave, who doesn't get contacted, who never makes that phone call.' There needs to be some sort of change so that that emergency intervention power, which is absolutely critical to prevent these kinds of tragedies, doesn't get stuffed up again. The minister should be prepared to say, 'It was a mistake in my office. I accept it. I own it. I'm doing something about it. I'm adopting a new protocol so that if ever that phone call comes into my office again, that kind of failure doesn't occur.'

10:42 am

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's great to be here for consideration in detail of one part of my portfolio, which is obviously the component around water. This element is clearly focused predominantly around the Murray-Darling Basin, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and, of course, the basin plan. It's great to have the member for Nicholls here, who is a passionate advocate for efficient water use in his area of Victoria, around Shepparton, one of those great producing areas for agriculture. This is where you find the Two Fruits and all of those canned and fresh products that come out of there around Shep. Long may it continue.

As we've seen in recent months, it's been a tough time, not only for the nation but particularly for those involved in irrigated agriculture. There has been a drought for a considerable period throughout large parts of the basin. We've seen significant challenges in those smaller communities. What I've said very clearly since I have taken up the portfolio is that we are putting those regional communities back at the heart of the basin plan. We intend to ensure that they continue to have opportunities for growth, opportunities for development, opportunities to produce jobs. We know that many of them have been significantly affected by the basin plan over a period of time, and we want to ensure that they have further opportunities for economic growth.

One of the ways that we're doing that, as announced in September as part of the budget for this year, is the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package. This is a significant investment in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is on top of what has been committed over a long period of time in a bipartisan way by governments of both stripes. Some $13 billion has been committed, and around $9 billion has already been invested as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. But this is about ensuring that we put those regional communities back at the heart of what we are doing, and that we strike the right balance between the needs of irrigators, the needs of the environment, the needs of business and the needs of community.

The Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package includes funding to invest in community resilience and river health. That includes $37.6 million over two years to work with the South Australian government to deliver projects that will sustain Riverland environments. These are about practical and actual outcomes. These are about environmental outcomes that actually make a difference on the ground. I'm very pleased to be working with Minister Speirs in South Australia, and our other South Australian counterparts at a federal level, to deliver actual outcomes for the environment. There is $37.6 million. There is $20 million over two years in the community-driven grants for on-ground projects that will improve the health of rivers and wetlands.

One of the challenges, and it's a significant challenge, is to continue to inform communities, and not just communities involved in the basin but right across Australia, because all Australians are interested in the health of the river system throughout the Murray-Darling Basin and what we have been doing over a long period of time to ensure we get that balance right, and this will certainly make a significant difference. There is $3.1 million over two years for the Indigenous River Rangers program to increase First Nations people's access to water for economic and social purposes and embed their participation in delivery of the Basin Plan. Once again, this is about ensuring that all members of the community are involved in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan's delivery. We will move to enforcement once we have all of our water resource plans accredited across what has obviously been a difficult and challenging period in terms of getting those things done.

The package will also include funding to build trust, transparency and accountability—what the feedback has been through the Keelty report, the Sefton report and others. I have had a wheelbarrow full of reports in the last few months, all of which we are obviously acting on. Very clearly, the community have said they need to be sure that what they are looking at is transparent information that can be trusted. Once again, the member for Nicholls has been instrumental in ensuring that this has been delivered. He's been a very outspoken advocate for his community and has ensured that they are well-informed and the information we are providing can be trusted. That includes $38.7 million over four years for compliance activities, including the establishment of a new statutory and independent inspector-general of water compliance. My counterpart, the shadow minister, who's in the Federation Chamber at the moment, is very interested in what's happening with this. I want to publicly thank Mr Keelty for his work. His contract expired at the end of September. I thank him for his report. We are acting on all five recommendations. Mr Keelty did not offer to continue and an offer was not provided. We are currently working our way through the process of ensuring that we can replace the interim inspector-general with what will be a beefed-up role, as I stated, in September. We are investing significantly in the communities who rely on irrigation and whose local economies rely on the health of the river. We are ensuring it's being provided in a balanced way, right across the spectrum, whether that is for the environment, for business or for irrigators. I'm very pleased to have the support of colleagues, like the member for Nicholls and others, who have been very active.

10:47 am

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

It's interesting that the minister talks about 'a wheelbarrow full of reports', because, of course, one of the people who's been writing reports on the basin has said of this set of communities that they feel like they've been overconsulted but under-listened-to. That is a real theme that comes out when you talk to people in the basin. They feel like there have been a lot of wheels turning in attempts to consult them, but there has been very little action, there are very few outcomes, and there hasn't really been enough listening—or, at least, they're not being heard. There has been review after review, but there hasn't been enough action yet. I want to talk about that, but let me start by agreeing with the minister and saying, 'Yes, Minister, I am very interested in compliance in the basin, and I'm not the only one.' One of the reasons I'm so interested in compliance is that trust and confidence are central to communities in the basin being able to not just survive but thrive. They need to know that they're getting a fair go. That's what farmers want, that's what traditional owners want, it's what communities want, and it's what environmentalists want. They want a fair go. Part of that fair go is trust and confidence. This is important.

The Basin Plan is a $13 billion plan, and the value of agricultural production in the basin is $24 billion annually. It is massively important, not just to the communities in the basin—although, that is, of course, a very wide geographical area—but to the entire nation, so we need to make sure that we have a government that understands what needs to be done. But this government has no plan for water security for our nation and has been quite woeful at handling the many criticisms that have been expressed about the way that the Murray-Darling Basin has been governed and how the plan has been implemented. There is, of course, their traditional approach of saying one thing in the regions and then doing something else in Canberra. With that as the context, let me talk about compliance. Let me talk about trust and confidence.

The minister mentioned Robbie Sefton's report, Independent assessment of social and economic conditions in the Murray–Darling Basin. Robbie Sefton and her panel said:

We found many people have diminished trust in federal and state governments to deliver good long term policy and support rural and regional Basin communities. People in Basin communities repeatedly said they had lost trust because they feel over-consulted and under-listened to. We heard strong messages that successive governments have hollowed out their local and regional capability and knowledge and have not provided clear leadership or a compelling vision.

She also said, in making recommendations about how to improve the way that we all work together:

Governments and Basin communities need to work together to rebuild trust, and communities need to be put at the centre of conversations about their future.

This wasn't new. The Productivity Commission in 2018 had spoken of the legacy of community distrust and warned that if things didn't improve then trust and confidence would be reduced further. Infrastructure Australia has acknowledged the impact of the Menindee fish kill and other events in undermining confidence in the government's management of water. And, of course, Mr Keelty, who I join with the minister in thanking for his work in his time as inspector-general, said:

In the absence of strong, basin-wide leadership, there is a perception that some parties are too busy 'playing politics' and are ineffectual at making any tough decisions, especially when it comes to making decisions in the national interest and at the whole-of-basin level.

So a range of concerns have been raised by reviewers, by the Productivity Commission and by the inspector-general.

Minister, that is why we are so interested in compliance—because it goes to the question of trust and confidence, and those things go to the question of the quality of life of the people who live in the basin, and the quality of life for our entire nation, because of the significance of agriculture and water to it. So that's why we're interested.

Your predecessor as minister, back in August last year, announced the creation of an inspector-general position for the Murray-Darling Basin., and we welcomed it at the time. In a press release, the government said, 'This Inspector-General will be able to refer issues of concern off to the Commonwealth integrity commission.' There's only one problem with that: the inspector-general has come and gone and still no Commonwealth integrity commission has actually been established. So that never happened.

But what also never happened was a range of things that had meant to be occurring with the inspector-general. It was meant to be interim, for a short time, and then a statutory basis for the inspector general position with statutory powers. It never happened. Then, a year later, the government abolished the position. They say, 'We'll have a new position.' That's great, but—guess what—it's not going to be stood up until September 2021. So there will be a year gap in compliance. And, of course, as has been said by the minister, Mick Keelty did not continue. There is no current interim inspector-general. There is no compliance entity of this type that was sold to Australians with so much fanfare back in August last year. It's was just another photo op with no follow-up.

10:52 am

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate of Nicholls, which is right within the Murray-Darling Basin, we are engaged in this once-in-a-generation reform to try and restore the health of our river systems. We need to restore that to a sustainable level, but we also need to keep a very sharp eye on the communities, the industries and the environment. Our water resources are subject to increasing pressures, and not just economically but also through population growth, natural disasters and, particularly, drought.

Over the last decade, the Australian government has been delivering key reforms under the Basin Plan to improve river health, water reliability and deliverability. Around 2,100 gigalitres of water has been recovered from irrigation users to better find this balance between consumptive use and environmental use. We understand that there's another 450 gigalitres that is currently tacked onto the end of the Basin Plan that has a socioeconomic neutrality test associated with its recovery. Therefore, if the recovery of any of that water were to have a negative impact on the socioeconomic status of that community, it cannot be delivered.

This is something that we all need to acknowledge, and it's something that the reports referred to by both the minister and the shadow minister, the Keelty report and the Sefton report, which have been delivered recently, have acknowledged. Those reports acknowledged that the 450 gigalitres cannot be delivered without substantial pain to the communities. So, to address this and to reduce the impacts of the Basin Plan, the government—heavily facilitated by The Nationals in the way that they lobby—has introduced a 1,500 gigalitre cap on buybacks. We all understand that buybacks are the most dangerous and damaging way that water can be recovered.

It was also this government that prioritised projects for water efficiency gains instead of buybacks, and this has led to a better socioeconomic impact on our communities. We're also fighting hard to promote the states with their 605-gigalitre reductions in water recovery and those 36 projects that will lead to fantastic environmental outcomes but not at the expense of recovered water. It is critical that we get the 605 gigalitres of sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects completed so that there doesn't need to be any more water recovered. I think it's very clear that we are working very hard. I acknowledge the work that the minister is doing. Keith Pitt really is turning his hand to the task, and it's a huge task ahead of him.

The $269 million for the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package is something that is making the communities the heart of the whole conversation. Some of these initiatives have brought fantastic life back to some of the smaller towns that have been at the giving end of all of this water recovery. We've got a $34 million extension of the Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program. That is picking up projects right around the Murray-Darling Basin. It allows communities most affected by the water recovery to apply for grants and get these projects up and running. This is a community-led program. These projects aren't imposed on the communities by government; they're actually developed from the community and come up through the community to government to deliver the projects that each of the communities want.

We've also allocated $20 million for community driven grants for on-the-ground river health projects. Again, this has been a fantastic initiative so that those people looking after the health of the rivers are able to put those funds exactly where they need to be. We are also working on river health projects that are important to each particular area and each particular stretch of river, and that's certainly making a big difference to the health of the overall basin. This $20 million for the community to look after the rivers means so much to each of those areas. The rehabilitation of favourite wetlands, the stocking of murray cod, riparian vegetation plantations—all of this is becoming very important work that is being facilitated by the funds that the minister has been able to put on the table. I thank him for the work he's doing.

10:57 am

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Following on from my earlier contribution, I've got some questions for the minister about the inspector-general model in the Murray-Darling Basin and the announcement in respect of a further compliance body being established and separated out from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Those questions are as follows. Minister, when will Australians see proposed legislation to establish the new compliance body? When will an interim inspector-general be appointed, if an interim inspector-general will be appointed? What powers will the interim inspector-general have and what powers will the new, presumably statutory, compliance body have? How will the government secure the cooperation of the other basin jurisdictions with either the interim inspector-general, if one is to be appointed, or, once there is a statutory body, that statutory body, given constitutional constraints? In other words, how can the minister assure the Australian people that whatever compliance arrangements are put in place will be able to be effective and rely on more than just moral suasion?

I welcome the contribution from the member for Nicholls. I also want to talk about the implementation of the plan and the recovery of water that the member touched on. I think everyone in this room would acknowledge that the 450-gigalitre target is just not on track. It's just not. Minister, you spoke about progress in relation to the 450 gigalitres—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10:59 to 11:10

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for consideration of the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio has concluded. The question is that the proposed expenditure for the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio be agreed to.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

11:11 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

My part of Home Affairs is Emergency Management Australia. Over the last couple of years, we have faced many disasters, starting with the floods in north-west Queensland, fires and the Black Summer fire events, and we are continuing to make sure that the programs we've put in place are targeted and continue to reach them. The Black Summer events were ones that this country has not seen and may never see again. Thirty-three people lost their lives, there were over 3,000 homes and premises destroyed and there were countless hectares of burn scar from this event. Tragically, there were 10 emergency service personnel who paid the ultimate price and lost their lives trying to protect Australians and their homes. In fact, three of those were from overseas. It's important we acknowledge the contribution and sacrifice that they and their families made to this country during those solemn times.

It was important as a government that we made sure the recovery and relief was immediate. I'm proud to say that, in working with the minister for human services, we were able to make sure that the immediate relief payments, at over $250 million, went out. In fact, the large majority of those were out of the Commonwealth bank account and into the bank accounts of those who were impacted by these fires within 40 minutes. That is an extraordinary effort and one that I thank them for. That was simply about getting some dignity and respect to those who had been impacted by this event to make sure that they have the ability to get the essentials on the table and for their families. We then looked to further recovery. The government made it very clear that it was important that, due to the significant size of this event, we needed to apportion $2 billion in a recovery fund. That came in many parts and is about the immediate recovery but also the long-term recovery. We believed that we'd spend around $500 million of that $2 billion by 30 June. I'm proud to say we actually spent over $1 billion of that by 30 June, such was the speed.

I congratulate Andrew Colvin, who heads the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, for the way he has worked with the victims but also the states. I have to acknowledge that this has been a partnership with those states across the country in this recovery effort. In fact, some of these programs have been matched by the states. It was important that we also understood that it wasn't just rebuilding infrastructure; it was rebuilding lives and, in some ways, much of the emotional attachment to their community and their properties that these people had lost. In terms of mental health, we committed $77 million. There's $38 million that has gone out already and will continue to go out. That's primarily targeted through our Primary Health Networks to make sure that they are local solutions, not Canberra solutions. We've made sure, with respect to agriculture and small-business grants, there was money on the table for them to continue, particularly in those parts where tourism was such an important part of their local economy. We also looked after, obviously, childcare subsidy support and emergency relief for charities. We are working now, through the royal commission, in and around some reforms with the charity sector to make sure that it's more targeted and that the Australian public can have confidence that the money they are putting out goes to where it's needed.

The last big piece of this recovery is just under $450 million for what we call local economic recovery plans. We are engaging in empowering local communities to tell us what the long-term rebuilding of their communities will look like: what is the infrastructure that will help them diversify and grow after this disaster? We are partnering with each state, I again congratulate the states for matching our funding on this so that it will go even further. We are working through with these local communities on what that will look like, and through the National Bushfire Recovery Agency we are getting that money out on the ground. South Australia was the very first state to get going—in fact we worked on a desalination plant on Kangaroo Island. Now we're working with Victoria. They've signed up. Queensland has already signed up to the process. New South Wales were the last to sign up, but they had the biggest scarred area, so it was important that we got that right. We'll continue to work with these communities in their recovery, making sure that the money is targeted and that the solutions to their recovery are local, not Canberra-led.

11:16 am

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

The work of these portfolio agencies has never been more important. I want to acknowledge the contribution of the minister for emergency management and the agencies that he's responsible for within this portfolio. The work that individuals did in that agency in conjunction with the states and many Australians over the summer is something all of us in this place acknowledge and pay tribute to.

But of course there are many broader issues in the Home Affairs portfolio that are particularly important right now. The work that people in that department do and have been doing to keep us safe through the pandemic and the work that needs to be done in a policy sense as well as an operational sense to restart a migration program are going to be fundamentally important to not only our economic prospects but also maintaining our social cohesion as the world's greatest example of a multicultural society. There are very significant challenges there that my colleagues and I are keen to explore in terms of the matters contained in these budget statements, particularly when it comes to the great threat that is posed to these issues by the rise of right-wing extremism and racism more generally. My colleague and friend the member for Cowan will be exploring that.

There are other big challenges at a processing level. I'm concerned, as many others are, by the ongoing issue of citizenship delays. I acknowledge that there has been progress, but that progress has been too slow. In this area, as in so many other areas, we've seen the government very keen to announce its achievements before they have in fact been achieved. The area of citizenship, which is such an emotional and important issue, is a very significant exemplar of that. It is an area where the government needs to do much better. There is also the area of visas. I was very proud to have stood with my Labor colleagues in resisting the government's plan to privatise our visa system this year, and I'm pleased to acknowledge that in March of this year that plan was abandoned. That saved 2,000 jobs—2,000 critical jobs—involved in this work. But it also costs Australians $91.9 million. The problem remains. I ask the minister: are our systems fit for purpose? Has the case made for a visa modernisation process, as it was described, been met? Did the $91.9 million assist in managing visa wait times, particularly for partner visa? We've seen wait times almost double over the life of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. Minister, has this achieved value for money for the Australian people?

We also had the recent announcement of the acting minister for immigration about a digitisation of the incoming passenger card and visa simplification. In estimates it was revealed that this will cost $75 million. That's not the capital cost; that is the cost of procurement, as I understand it. Perhaps the acting minister for immigration can confirm that: is it the case that the $75 million is just for a procurement process? Minister, can you more broadly assure Australians and this place that systems will be in place to ensure our visa system is as it should be to meet the needs of restarting a migration program that's so fundamental to who we are and to our economic prospects, or has the $161 million been wasted on a fool's errand?

One hundred and sixty-one million dollars and nothing to show for it in an area that is so fundamentally important. There is no indication that we have the systems that are fit for purpose, nor fit to do the work with the fantastic hard-working public servants who do such important work and, as we all know through our electorate offices, have been under such pressure during these unprecedented times.

Another very significant issue in this budget is the cut to our humanitarian program, a 20,000 person cut over the forward estimates. This is a cut characterised, like so many other issues in this portfolio, as something that's taken place without consultation and without any particular focus on what it means, other than presumably its impact on the bottom line. There is also some uncertainty in remarks as to whether the number 13,750 is in fact a cap. I ask if the minister could directly address that? Could the minister also advise us when he is going to take up New Zealand's generous offer to resettle, and otherwise update the House on his progress in third country resettlement options for refugees? The minister should be able to tell this place and the Australian people that he is as committed as we are to being tough on our borders without being weak on humanity.

11:20 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am going to put a question to the acting minister for migration, but before I do I want to make some personal and other observations. My grandmother was born in a small town in Germany called Budingen near Frankfurt. As the Nazis came to power the family had a housekeeper, a woman called Katie Popp. I wouldn't be here in this chamber without Katie Popp because Katie sensed more than most what was happening and what it meant for my grandmother's family to be Jewish because people stopped serving her in shops. They started to shun her not because she was Jewish but because she worked for a Jewish family.

My grandmother died in 1969 and I never met her. But Katie lived well into the early nineties. I remember as a small boy going to her place, enjoying a sense of the German culture that she had, enjoying the beautiful cakes and hearing her speak English with a thick German accent. I tell this story because I'm reminded of the way in which Katie learnt English in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s. She, like the rest of the family, loved dogs. She used to take the dogs for a walk in the park and would strike up conversations with people. Through those conversations she gradually picked up the English language. That may have been an acceptable way for people to learn English in the 1930s and 1940s, through osmosis, if your first language was German—German giving English many of its roots. But if your first language is Mandarin, if it's Farsi, if it's Arabic, if it's Korean, if it's Hindi, or any of the other Indian languages, how much more difficult it is to do that today?

The minister made an excellent speech, if I may say, at the National Press Club recently where he looked at the issues around the challenges we face in social inclusion and in economic opportunities for people who live in this country who don't speak English. The figures from the census are quite alarming. There are over 819,937 people who don't speak English. One of the great strengths of Australia is its cultural and ethnic diversity. It's one of the things that make it such a wonderful place to live, that we have successfully absorbed migrants from the four corners of the earth. But if you don't have English your opportunities to contribute to the country, economically and socially, and your capacity to engage other Australians is much more limited than it could be.

In my own electorate there are 4,944 people who have little or no English. Of those who came in the last 10 years there are 1,413 people. And of the total national figure over 44,000 people have been here for more than 50 years and have little or no English. This isn't just a problem for individual social inclusion; it's a problem for the stability and strength of Australia as a society.

The former chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, who died at the weekend, wrote a beautiful book called the Home We Build Together about how to strengthen multicultural societies. I want to quote from his book, from an observation he made about his father when he came to Britain from Poland. He said:

My father came to Britain from Poland in the first decade of the twentieth century. What might he have done had he come a century later? In those days he had to learn English to make contact with the world outside. He acquired British culture; he admired it; he made sure we, his four sons, made ourselves at home in it. He had no choice; neither did we. Had he come today he could watch Polish television, listen to Polish radio, read the Polish press. Through internet technologies he could be in spoken and visual contact with friends and family thousands of miles distant, as if they were living next door. His 'hello; would imply no 'goodbye'. Physically he might be here, but mentally he might still be there.

The technology that Sacks speaks about makes our world terrific and allows us to have connections, but it presents a real challenge for societies today to ensure that the integration we desire, as a society and as individuals, is ultimately successful.

The adult migrant Adult Migrant English Program is over 40 years old. In my own electorate, the Hornsby TAFE conducts courses in the Adult Migrant English Program, and I had the privilege of going a couple of years ago and sitting in on those classes. People came to those classes with Asian, Middle Eastern and European language backgrounds, and the program has been a success. But the fact that we have still over 800,000 Australians who speak little or no English indicates that we need to do better. My question to the minister is: how will the reforms that minister is making to the Adult Migrant English Program change the opportunities for people in Australia who can't speak English and allow us as a society to be stronger, more cohesive and more united?

11:26 am

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a few questions about cybersecurity aspects of the Home Affairs portfolio. On 30 June 2020, the Prime Minister announced $35 million in funding to deliver 'a new cyberthreat-sharing platform for industry and government to share intelligence about malicious cyberactivity as part of the 2020 cybersecurity strategy'. But this wasn't the first time the government announced a cyberthreat-sharing platform for industry and government. On 21 April 2016, 1,531 days before, the government announced in the 2016 cybersecurity strategy that it would 'establish a layered approach for sharing real-time public-private cyberthreat information through an online cyberthreat-sharing portal'. The strategy further provided that this threat-sharing portal would enable 'a broad range of organisations to share information on a secure online cyberthreat-sharing portal, including the results of analysis by the joint cyberthreat-sharing centres'. Funding was then allocated to the Attorney-General's Department to deliver this platform, and it sat unexpended on the budget papers for the next four years. The 2020 Cyber Security Strategy Industry Advisory Panel report on the cybersecurity strategy noted the surprise of industry that a real-time government-industry threat-sharing intel platform hadn't been delivered, stating:

There is clear appetite from industry for real-time sharing of threat information. The Panel was surprised to learn that technical limitations currently prevent the Australian Cyber Security Centre from meeting these requests.

ASD indicated in answers to questions on notice from Senate estimates last year that it had undertaken an approach to market to select a commercial off-the-shelf cyberthreat intelligence management and sharing capability, due to be delivered by 30 June 2020, which turned out to be the day that the Prime Minister reannounced a cyberthreat-sharing platform with new funding, as part of the 2020 cybersecurity strategy. My question for the minister is: why did the government fail to follow through on the delivery of the threat-sharing platform announced in the 2016 cybersecurity strategy for four years? Why did the Prime Minister then reannounce this threat-sharing platform in the 2020 cybersecurity strategy?

I have another question about vulnerability disclosure processes and bug bounties. The ACSC's Securing the internet of things for consumers: code of practice advises developers to implement a vulnerability disclosure policy—'a public point of contact as part of a vulnerability disclosure policy in order for security researchers and others to report issues'. The code further recommends that manufacturers have 'a bug bounty program' to encourage users to report vulnerabilities. The code further states, 'The Australian government recommends industry prioritise vulnerability disclosure as it will bring the largest security benefits in the short term.' My question is: why does the Commonwealth government not follow this best-practice security advice in the IT services that it offers to Australian citizens? There's no vulnerability disclosure policy published for the COVIDSafe app or myGov or any other IT services delivered by the government. The government has never run a bug bounty program. Is this a case of the government telling manufacturers, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' on cybersecurity? Why does the Commonwealth believe it's more important for an internet connected fridge to be protected by a vulnerability disclosure process and bug bounties than the COVIDSafe app?

Malcolm Turnbull's 2016 cybersecurity strategy established a dedicated role in the ministry for cybersecurity. After Malcolm Turnbull's ousting, one of the first acts of the current Prime Minister was to abolish that role and wrap the responsibilities into the Home Affairs portfolio. Since then, cybersecurity policy-making has been politically orphaned. Industry publication ZDNet reflected industry's views on these arrangements, after observing the media conference launching the 2020 cybersecurity strategy—the Home Affairs minister's first dedicated press conference on cybersecurity, well over a year into the role—with the headline 'Does Peter Dutton understand his own cyberstrategy?'

The article concluded, 'The minister is already spread thin across this sprawling department. How well do we think this strategy will progress under his leadership?'

Those views were echoed by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who noted on the Risky Business podcast, 'Part of the problem is that probably since I left there isn't anyone at a senior level taking an interest in cybersecurity. There isn't a minister for cybersecurity. I don't think Scott Morrison is particularly interested in it or familiar with it.'

I think you need a minister who is clearly responsible for cybersecurity, someone who is prepared to actually learn. It has to be someone who is not a once-over light skimmer of things. It has to be someone who is a bit nerdy. My question to minister then is: when can the Australian people expect real leadership on cybersecurity and the appointment of a dedicated member of the executive with responsibility for cybersecurity, someone that's willing to learn, someone who is a bit of a nerd and not just a skimmer? When am I going to get someone as an opposite number who is actually interested in cybersecurity policy and the issues that underlie it?

11:31 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me address a few of the questions which have been put so far. Firstly, in relation to citizenship ceremonies, in the last 12 months we've had record numbers of people becoming citizens. More than 200,000 people, in fact, pledged their allegiance to Australia in 2020, which is a 60 per cent increase on the previous year. We have very much got on top of the backlog that was there previously, in part due to COVID.

Secondly, in relation to the permissions platform which the shadow minister was asking about and the $75 million which has been allocated in the budget, the answer is no, that's not just for procurement. Of course that's not the case. In fact, that money goes to procurement and processing costs, ICT preparations, biometric and identity systems developments, business case developments et cetera. So it's a full suite of things which that funding will be going towards.

In relation to the humanitarian questions which the shadow minister asked, he asked directly whether this was in fact a cap. It is a cap. It's no longer a target. That was a decision which was made in this particular budget. Of course the 13,750 figure, if achieved this financial year, will in fact, be a higher number than it was last financial year, when the figure was in the low 13,000s. With that figure, we'll still be the third most generous country in the world, on an absolute basis, in relation to our humanitarian intake.

Finally, in my last three minutes let me address the member for Berowra's question in relation to English language. I commend him, first of all, for the outstanding remarks that he just made in relation to English language, when he pointed out the critical importance of it for our social cohesion. It was a beautiful story that he gave himself, which he related to this chamber. I'll give a couple more stats on that. Today, of those who do not speak English, only 13 per cent are in work. I'll say that again. Only 13 per cent of those who don't speak English in Australia today are in a job. That's the employment rate, not the unemployment rate. If you do speak English, it's well into the 60s. Today you cannot properly engage fully in the employment market, or you certainly have great difficulty doing so, without English. This has changed from the 1950s and 1960s, when that English language wasn't so much required. Today, with the occupational health and safety requirements, you do need that English to have the best opportunity of getting work. Those statistics which I just outlined indicate that.

It's not the case that just by being in Australia you'll naturally pick up the English language. The data doesn't support that. Fifty per cent of people who have been here for 15 years still don't have English language. So we are making three fundamental changes to support migrants to learn English. First, we're completely opening up the accessibility for our free adult English language programs. This means that any migrant at any time can get as many hours of English language tuition as they need. Second, we're improving the quality of those courses. That work is being undertaken now and, when the next contracts go out, we'll be insisting that there is better performance by those providers to get better outcomes, because we haven't been getting the outcomes we would like to see. Third, we will place higher expectations upon individuals to take up the English language courses which are available to them. In particular, we're asking people who are applying for partner visas to make a reasonable effort to learn English before they put in their permanent residency application. In most cases, 'reasonable efforts' will be defined as simply taking part in those free English language classes. There's nothing fixed. We're not setting a standard. There's no bar. We're just asking for a reasonable effort while they're here in Australia before they get their permanent residency.

We think those three things will make a substantial difference. It will help the individuals, it will give them the best chance of seizing all the great opportunities in Australia, and it will add to our social cohesion so that we can all communicate together and, ultimately, continue our success as the greatest multicultural country in the world.

11:36 am

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My questions are to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. I refer to the minister's indications that changes will be made to the citizenship test to include new questions on Australian values and his comments in the media that the stronger focus on Australian values in citizenship testing will be an important part of helping protect our social cohesion into the future. My questions are: does the minister condone the comments made by Senator Abetz in a Senate inquiry in which he asked three witnesses of Australian-Asian heritage to denounce the PRC under the guise of Australian values? What does the minister mean by 'Australian values'? Can the minister provide a checklist of what it means to be Australian that can be quantifiably verified through robust research methodologies? Does the minister consider that members of the government uphold these said values? Does the minister consider that Senator Abetz should offer an apology to the three witnesses he confronted?

The Australian people deserve to know what this government means when they say 'Australian values'. They deserve to know at what point their Australianness is considered enough. Is it when they have been here 50 years? Is it when they've been born here? Is it when they've lived here all their lives and have never gone overseas to another country?

While I am here, I may also ask the minister further questions about the changes to English language classes. The minister has stated that recent migrants will be able to access English classes for free until they have functional English, which the government defines as having the language skills to participate in society. I note that there have been further details given on this provision, but my questions really go to testing and functionality, so I pose the following questions to the government: while we welcome the lifting of the cap of 510 hours, which returns the AMEP to the level of functionality it had pre the mid-1990s, is the minister also considering amending the threshold for functional English competency from its current ISLPR 2? My second question is: considering that research suggests that it takes six months on average to progress 0.5 of a level across all four macro skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening, if an individual with zero to minimal literacy arrives in Australia and is eligible for AMEP, it's likely that they could take up to three years to achieve a functional ISLPR 2. Has the government received any advice as to the potential cost of this and the additional funding and resources that would need to be allocated to the AMEP to meet this demand? My third question is: what measures is the government putting in place to ensure that current inequities in the provision of AMEP are addressed so that women on partner visas, for example, are given equal opportunity to learn English even if they are not pursuing English for vocational purposes? Will these women have the same access to structured classes taught by a qualified TESOL practitioner in a formal setting?

The current English language testing regime for immigration is not fit for purpose and is inconsistent. The five accredited tests, the OET, the PTE, the TOEFL, the IELTS and the Cambridge test, are diverse in their operation, in their purpose and in their standards. Each test has different levels or standards by which candidates are assessed, and they cannot be uniformly standardised or equivocated. Further, IELTS is widely used for immigration purposes in Australia, but it was not designed for those purposes. It was designed primarily to assess prospective university entrants. It's not suited to assessing English language proficiency for a wide range of prospective migrants.

Given that context, what measures is the government taking to fix the English language testing regime for immigration purposes? Is the government considering including the ISLPR, which is widely used in Australia, in that testing regime? Has the government fully assessed the social and economic impacts of its proposal to test potential partner visa applicants for English language competency? What level of English language competency does the minister deem 'functional', and is this across all four macro skills? Is the minister aware that functional competency in oral skills is more readily acquired than functional competency in written skills? Has the minister undertaken to fully understand the functional competency skills required for different workplace participation, including levels of functional competency across all four macro skills in different workplaces? For example, somebody working in a job that requires primarily physical tasks would need to have a lower level of written competency. How does the minister propose to assess functional proficiency across these different skills requirements?

11:41 am

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. But, before I get to the question, I want to provide the House with a little bit of context first. As I've spoken about before, I'm a dad of two wonderful young children, and, like all parents, there is nothing that worries me more every single day than keeping my kids safe and the kids of Australia safe. For many of us, as a prosperous and secure nation, what we want is a safe future for our kids—and, for many of us, it has brought us to this place. But, unfortunately, the reality of the world we are living in is that there are lurking threats that are prevalent that we must always be guarding against—threats that are of the most vile and sickening nature that we can imagine.

Criminals are using technological advances to collaborate in order to commit these kinds of child sexual offences and then to circulate child abuse material. An increase in criminals' online capability and the advances, such as end-to-end encryption, have seen the rise of these types of crime, and it's becoming a lot harder for our experts in our law enforcement agencies to find. I really want to commend the Minister for Home Affairs for recently calling out some of these technology companies for simply not doing enough to take responsibility for the technology that they have created that is thereby facilitating this kind of horrific act. They're also, frankly, using the cover of COVID. Using a global pandemic in such a way to hide their crimes and to increase their crimes is sickening to all Australians. I can think of nothing more abhorrent than these acts, and nothing should be more important to the parliament, frankly, than stopping these predators in their tracks. I particularly commend this government for the efforts that it has made to find these criminals, to stop them from reoffending, to remove these children from harm and exploitation and to prevent further offences.

Recently, I visited the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, known as ACCCE. The centre was put together and pioneered by the Morrison government, under the stewardship of the Minister for Home Affairs. The centre is a hub with one important goal, and that is to tackle the online exploitation of children, and the organisations that the ACCCE brings together are world-leading in achieving this goal. Obviously, I would prefer that the risk simply didn't exist, but the reality of our world is that it does—and, if it does, then we must have the most up-to-date and best resources for our crime-fighting agencies in order to bring them to justice. So I'm delighted that the ACCCE is located in my home of Brisbane and brings together resources from a number of government agencies, law enforcement agencies and non-government organisations.

The ACCCE allows for a centralised hub where specialists have the tools and capabilities they need in order to achieve their mission. And their mission is very simple, and one that we all embrace and support them in every single day, and that is children free from any exploitation both online and in the real world. Frankly, I have never met a group of people like those that I met at the ACCCE, who are so steadfastly focused on their goal at hand. Every individual that I met is focused and motivated by the importance of their role to Australian families and to the Australian community. They are truly remarkable individuals, and I think we should take absolutely every opportunity at hand to thank them for the incredible work that they do. We can only imagine what is involved in identifying these threats, working through thousands upon thousands of reports and sifting through some of the most truly horrendous images that would ever confront anyone—and many of them do it as parents themselves. They show a resolve which is uplifting, which is to be commended—a resolve that we can all aspire to in this House—to go about their job in a way that protects Australia's kids.

I am proud to stand as part of this government, who have committed over $68 million over four years to the establishment and continuation of the ACCCE. Already the unit has seen significant results. Last financial year, 134 children were removed from harm thanks to the partnerships at the ACCCE and those dedicated police officers. That is 134 children who are no longer in harm's way because of the incredible work done by these officers. To the Minister for Home Affairs, my question is simple: will he further outline how the Morrison government is keeping Australian kids safe from these vile acts of child exploitation both online and in the real world and how they are actively being removed from harm because of the work of the officers at the ACCCE and because of the funding provided by the Morrison government?

11:46 am

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Communities across Eden-Monaro still very much bear the scars of the Black Summer bushfires. While we lost so much—lives, hundreds of homes and millions of animals—we stand united in our bid to build back better. Over the past couple of months, I've been meeting with community organisations across the electorate who are desperate to prepare for the next bushfire season. In Bega, the local Rotary group is currently crowdfunding to upgrade the toilets at the showgrounds to make them fully accessible for when the community needs to evacuate again. In Cobargo, the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund is currently exploring multiple avenues, including crowdfunding, to build an evacuation centre for when disaster strikes again. In Eden, it's a similar story. The community there is trying to scrape together funds to upgrade a sporting facility to double as an evacuation centre, to provide a hub for the community in times of emergency. It's not a case of if; it's when. I've championed these projects to you and I thank you for hearing me out. The communities of Bega, Eden and Cobargo were all devastated by the last bushfire season and are doing everything they can to protect themselves for the upcoming bushfire season. Yet, despite this, the government has refused to release a cent from its $4 billion Emergency Response Fund, which is set up to, in part, fund mitigation and resilience projects. I've heard the line about how this fund can only be activated if there are no other emergency response funding avenues available. My question to you is: why have some communities been left to crowdfund for toilet block upgrades and evacuation centres, when you have a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund sitting untouched? Minister Littleproud, this week you were forced to correct the record and admit that your government has undertaken no formal consultation with the federal opposition on mitigation projects that could potentially be funded from this $4 billion Emergency Response Fund. How is it that, 18 months on from the establishment of this fund, you are yet to formally begin the consultation process with some federal MPs? You say this issue is above politics, so why are you leaving some opposition MPs out in the cold?

Way back in June this year, the Prime Minister stood up during the Eden-Monaro by-election and announced a second round of funding for primary producers, covering apple growers, forestry and wine producers. At the time, the Prime Minister and Minister Littleproud made a big song and dance about the support this government would provide for primary producers in my electorate. Two weeks later, the government lost the by-election. It's taken many months for the government to approach the industry about funding, and dollars are still yet to hit the ground. Small-business owners that the government promised immediate relief for back in January waited months for the opportunity to even apply for funding they were relying on to keep their businesses afloat. In March, Scott Morrison admitted that the process was taking too long, and his government was forced to rejig its bushfire recovery support. Even now, with the latest round of primary producer funding, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency refuse to reveal, through estimates, exactly how much support has actually been provided to apple growers, wine producers and the forestry industry in bushfire electorates. My question to you is: why is it, in the middle of a by-election, the Prime Minister is full of announcements, but bushfire communities are then forced to wait months for any follow-through?

In May, the Prime Minister announced that government would begin rolling out economic recovery plans in bushfire communities. Again, bushfire communities were forced to wait for months for any sign that these economic recovery plans were in the works. I understand that rebuilding communities takes time, but these economic recovery plans were just another example of the Prime Minister making a big announcement with little follow-up. Finally, last week, we saw signs of the funding for New South Wales communities. This is great news and I welcome it. But now we're in another bushfire season and communities have been waiting months to get their lives back on track. What's worse is that we're not seeing funding for the second stream of economic funding available through the New South Wales Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund until April next year. Why are affected industries being forced to wait more than a year after the 2019-20 bushfire season to receive bushfire economic recovery funding?

11:50 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to address two of the issues which were raised by the former speaker in relation to citizenship tests and also English-language provision. On the citizenship test, the changes that we have made are very clearly documented in the citizenship booklet which is provided before each applicant does their citizenship test. They will see very clearly in that booklet some of the core principles which have underpinned Australia's success: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, democracy, the rule of law, and the paramounts of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary law over other religious laws. Those are the types of issues which are outlined in that document, and those are the types of issues which will be contained in the new updated citizenship test.

In relation to English language, I was being asked about whether the standard was functional English and how it was defined. I can inform the member that, in part of our reforms to the Adult Migrant English Language Program, we are lifting the threshold to vocational level rather than just functional level. This has already been stated publicly. This is one of the reform measures. Of course, this is not the requirement for a person if they are applying for permanent residency through their partner visa. It is not to reach any particular standard. It's simply to make a reasonable effort to do some English-language classes. That would typically be defined by doing hours of those classes. That's an important change we are making and it's in recognition that some people may want to do more hours of classes until they get to that slightly higher level of vocational English.

Some other changes are included, and these have been outlined already in the bill that was presented to the House. I note that the Senate is considering this bill presently. It removes the 510-hour statutory limit on eligible persons' entitlement to English-language tuition. It amends the upper limit for eligibility to access English tuition to a new level of vocational English, which I said. It removes the statutory time limits for registering, commencing and completing English tuition for people who hold a visa and were in Australia on or before October 2020. That means that, if you've been here for 10 years already and your English is still not as good as you'd like it to be, you can still partake in those free English-language classes, which you couldn't have done previously. These are very significant changes. It's particularly important, as I think the member for Berowra was pointing out, that, if your native tongue is linguistically distant from English, it will often take you more hours to learn English than if your native tongue is Latin based. Consequently, a person may need 2,000 hours, for example, and they will be able to take up all of those hours if they need them and want to do that, and they can go all the way up to vocational levels.

These are important changes to the accessibility of free English language classes to migrants. As I said, we're working on the quality of those classes as well, which we think is important. We think work can be done on that. Furthermore, we're placing some expectations upon people. It is in the individual's interests as much as in society's interests to have a reasonable command of the English language, because it helps that individual participate fully in Australian society. That's what Australian society is about. It is about welcoming people from around the world and integrating them fully into our great multicultural community. We want to fully support that and fully support those individuals to learn the English language so that they can fully participate in our great democracy and our great communities and fully participate in our great multicultural society.

11:55 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is terrific. This is the one time of the year that we get the minister to sit here for an hour and actually answer some questions about what's going on. It's a chance, Minister, for you to apologise, to explain and to actually answer some questions of the almost 100,000 Australians who are stuck in your black hole of a department waiting for their partner visa to be processed.

When Labor left office it took about six to 12 months, if you fell in love with someone from overseas, to get a visa. Under this government and this acting minister—God knows what he's up to most days—it now takes two to three years. Unbelievably, in the last two weeks he has taken the waiting times off the website, so nearly 100,000 Australians have no idea how long it's going to take them to be reunited with their loved one. There he is over there having a chat. Minister, you can answer the question: why did you remove the waiting times from the website? What have you got to hide? For every one of those 100,000 Australians desperate to be with the person that they love, how long are they going to have to wait?

This is literally destroying the relationships of Australians. That's not hyperbole. Every week in my electorate office we get calls and we get people knocking on the door to bring their paperwork in who are wanting to know what's happening. People are crying in the foyer and on the phone. It's part of being Australian, to fall in love with someone from overseas. People love who they love. We've got parents who've never met their children, who only know their children on Zoom and WhatsApp. We've got a woman right now, this week, who's 42 and wants to start a family. Her biological clock is ticking. She has no idea now whether she'll ever be able to have children. Nothing from the department.

Since you've been in office you've cut the number of partner visas issued each year. We believe you've used an illegal method. Section 87 of the Migration Act, as you well know, Minister, says that you have no power to cap the number of partner visas issued every year. The parliament did not give you that power, yet you use this administrative mechanism. I ask the minister: have you got legal advice that what you're doing is legal? If so, what does that advice say? Prove to the parliament that what you are doing is even legal. Of course, the government suffered enormous backlash, with nearly 100,000 people furious at this never-ending delay.

The spin sounds good in the budget but the devil is in the detail. The government said—and this is a good step, a small step, but not sufficient—they'll finally clear out some of the mess that's in this black hole of a Department of Home Affairs. That's a good thing, Minister. You've said you'll process about 70,000 visas this year that are overdue, and that's welcome. But what about the thousands of people who applied for a visa offshore who are currently here in Australia waiting? I've got constituents who are now literally booking flights to go to Singapore and then come back, and taking a quarantine space that should be used for a stranded Australian. The minister could fix this now. He could grant these offshore visas onshore by changing the migration regulations, but the government refuses to do so. We've got hundreds if not thousands of Australians taking the quarantine spots of people who should be able to come home.

But I believe the nastiest impact of these budget measures that you've put in place is blatant discrimination. The government said that they might process a few of the offshore visa applications if these people live in a regional area. Minister, why are you discriminating against people who live in cities who fall in love with someone from overseas? Why is the love of someone who lives in a regional area worth more than the love of someone who lives in a city? Minister, could you please tell Australians—he has his back turned! He's not listening to anything. I don't know how he's going to answer a question, but I'll keep going. Minister, could you please tell Australians: what is a regional area? Which cities are not going to be able to have their partners come to Australia if they fall in love?

The other aspect—and this is really nasty discrimination, and the government knows it—is that if you happen to fall in love with someone from a nice, white, Western country you're going to get a visitor visa to come here and wait, but if you happen to fall in love with someone from Africa or the Middle East or South-East Asia or India or parts of China you're in a black hole; you'll never have any hope of being reunited with the person you love. The practical impact is discrimination. With regard to prospective marriage visas, Minister, you said, 'You might get a refund, but you might not.' Can you give a clear commitment to people on when you're going to change the regulations, which you need to do to implement the budget measure, so that these prospective marriage visas can be extended? Are people guaranteed of getting a refund? If so, in what circumstance? The core question for people there is: how long are they going to have to wait?

I'll put another few questions on the record to the Minister for Home Affairs: how many stranded Australians is the minister going to abandon overseas this Christmas? How many stranded Australians abandoned by the minister are medically or financial vulnerable? Why isn't the minister and the Morrison government doing more to help stranded Australians get home, and what is the minister's advice for stranded Australians and their families who are still unable to get home during this deadly pandemic?

12:00 pm

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset, I want to say to the member for Bruce that it is utterly offensive to suggest that this government or the department of foreign affairs somehow conduct a racist immigration policy. It is offensive—and he knows that—and it's a disgrace for him to be suggesting it. He should know better than that. This government and Australia have had a non-discriminatory immigration policy now for decades under successive governments, Labor and Liberal governments. For him to come into this place under parliamentary privilege and make such accusations—

Mr Hill interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Bruce! The minister is entitled to be heard in silence.

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

It is deeply offensive, and he knows it. He's saying it deliberately under parliamentary privilege here. He should ashamed of himself for saying such things. This government proudly has a non-discriminatory immigration program. Successive governments have had a non-discriminatory immigration program. To come in here and suggest, as he did, that we have somehow done otherwise is a disgrace, and he should absolutely reject that.

Mr Hill interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Bruce!

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

He continues to interject in relation to this point. He's still making the arguments, and he continues to do so now. I simply point out that we have a non-discriminatory immigration program. That will continue. By the very nature of the program we have, people come from all corners of the world, from China, India, Africa, South America, the Americas, Europe, New Zealand—you name it—every corner of the world. It changes each year depending on where the demand is coming from. In each case, people get considered on their merits. Their security checks are done on their merits. Their applications are assessed on their merits. We are the great, successful country that we are today in very large part because of the successful immigration program that successive governments have run for decade upon decade. When the pandemic is over, this country will again continue to be a great immigration country. We will continue to be the greatest multicultural country in the world. So I will not stand for the member for Bruce coming in here and making a slur not just on this government but on Australia in suggesting that we have a policy such as he was suggesting. We do not.

In relation to the partner visas, the member would fully aware that in this budget we almost doubled—almost doubled—the number of partner permanent residency visas for this financial year. That was in part in recognition of the sheer numbers that were applying for that partner residency visa. About 90 per cent of the entire family program is made up of partner permanent residency visas, and consequently we almost doubled that for this financial year. That will address many of the issues that the member has raised.

But I also point out that most people are actually already here in Australia when they are applying for that permanent residency visa. And they will stay here, because while they're waiting for that permanent residency visa to be applied they'll be put on a bridging visa. So there is no question about them not being here in the country with their loved ones,

Mr Hill interjecting

The member for Bruce constantly interjects. He is aware of the answers to these questions, and he's just making assertions which are incorrect. This government has almost doubled the number of permanent residency partner visas in this budget.

Mr Hill interjecting

He's constantly interjecting now on different points. The final point that he raised, which again I will address directly, was in relation to what's called the visa application charges. We've made some considerable changes to that in recognition that people may have paid their fee but been unable to get into the country. So we've either waived or deferred those fees or effectively given people a voucher. That is all outlined publicly in my press release also.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

12:06 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the chamber for the opportunity to make an opening statement. The Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio currently has 14 agencies that receive appropriations from the government. The 2020-21 budget supply and appropriations bills provided the portfolio with appropriations for ordinary annual services of $2.2 billion in 2021. The total appropriations for the portfolio include half a billion dollars for functions not related to Indigenous affairs. Minister Wyatt will discuss the budget measures received by Indigenous agencies within the portfolio shortly.

Included in the total funding for the portfolio, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be provided with appropriations for ordinary annual services of $246 million in 2020-21. The average staffing level for the portfolio is 4,712. It should be noted that a substantial portion of the staff of the portfolio is funded through external revenue receipts that were not appropriated to entities within the portfolio by an annual appropriation act or another act.

The 2020-21 budget delivered a number of important measures led by the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. These include supporting communities impacted by the catastrophic bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister announced the establishment of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission on 25 March 2020. It was renamed the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board on 27 July 2020. The name change reflects its strategic advisory role in providing businesses' perspective to government on Australia's economic recovery. The advisory board will provide support and effort to the government's plans for Australia's economic recovery and help get Australians back into jobs.

The 2020-21 budget is an economic recovery plan with a renewed focus on making it easier for businesses to operate, invest and create jobs. The government will provide $14.2 million over the next two years to the Deregulation Taskforce and to regulatory performance functions within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the wider JobMaker plan deregulation package. The Deregulation Taskforce will provide additional support to help National Cabinet drive an ambitious recovery and oversee the implementation of measures. The regulatory performance function will support regulatory agencies to improve accountability and transparency, to build capability and drive a culture of regulator excellence. I was pleased to announce this initiative last month. Placing this regulatory performance policy function at the centre of government will increase accountability, promote best practice, build professionalism of regulators and drive cultural change. This isn't about a more systematic expectation-setting, reporting, monitoring and promoting culture of regulator excellence across the Commonwealth. It's about better coordination and data sharing, more rational and ultimately effective risk based compliance monitoring, and footprint mapping, with a view to possible streamlining.

The government is committed to supporting women's economic security through the 2020-22 Economic Women's Security Statement. This will support women who have been impacted by COVID-19 and complement the government's JobMaker plan. The department will receive $47.9 million over four years to expand the existing Women's Leadership and Development Program. In addition to creating employment, the funding will also bolster existing priority areas, including women's safety by supporting women experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence to return to and retain work. Minister Ley will be able to provide further details on the 2020-22 Women's Economic Security Statement and package during her statement today.

The government will provide the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet additional resourcing of $39.2 million over four years to support the government's policy priorities, including its COVID-19 response and establishing ICT systems for the Office of the National Data Commissioner to regulate public sector data sharing and release. The government has recognised the importance of critical technology and has committed $5.6 million over two years to improve the government's capability to identify assets that address national security related issues for critical technologies. This includes the establishment of the Critical Technologies Policy Coordination Office within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, enhanced international engagement and expanding the Department of Defence's role in assessing trends in emerging technology.

The government will also provide the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General additional resourcing of $18 million over four years. The office plays a pivotal role in supporting the Governor-General and administering the Australian Honours and Awards System. The funding will support ongoing community engagement, the processing of national emergency medal and the office to undertake necessary ICT upgrades.

The National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency will receive $19.6 million in 2021-22 to extend the drought support offered to affected communities. Old Parliament House will receive $1.9 million over three years to undertake critical urgent works to the heritage listed buildings, to ensure public safety and asset repairs. The Australian National Audit Office will receive $69.4 million in appropriations for ordinary annual services in 2020-21.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to set out the portfolio's budget measures and to give a brief insight in how they'll benefit our community and our economy. I thank the hardworking staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for their support for the government's priorities.

12:11 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is so the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister—an assistant minister representing a Prime Minister without a credible plan to power Australia's economy out of recession. This Morrison recession is the first recession in Australia in nearly 30 years, and it is the worst recession since the 1920s. The Morrison recession has cost hundreds of thousands of Australians their jobs. It has shattered the living standards and hopes of millions of Australians. It risks consigning a generation of young people to years of unemployment and underemployment. And it risks assigning a large cohort of mature workers to uncertainty about whether and when their jobs are coming back.

The Morrison recession is Australia's most urgent economic challenge in living memory. It is a recession which was precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic but is a recession which has been exacerbated by the policy failures of the Morrison government. The recession is deeper because this government ignored the economic warning signs during 2019, and the recession risks being longer because the Prime Minister has no plan for jobs, no plan for growth and no plan for the challenges of the future—challenges like climate change, the impact of technological change on the workforce, the need to boost productivity and the need to tackle rising inequality. They have no agenda for economic recovery and they have no agenda for building a better Australia. The reason they have no plan is because this is a Prime Minister obsessed with marketing slogans and politics—a Prime Minister always there for the photo op but never there for the follow-up, moving on from one marketing slogan to the next, never delivering and always leaving too many ordinary Australians behind.

The government has just delivered a budget that racks up a trillion dollars of debt. But, for all the spending and all the debt, the budget will not create the jobs Australians need. On the latest ABS data, the unemployment rate is 6.9 per cent—and we know the effective unemployment rate is closer to 10 per cent. On this government's settings, unemployment will be too high for too long. Another 160,000 Australians will be added to the ranks of the jobless by the end of the year. We have 2.6 million Australians right now who are either out of work or desperately need more hours in the job they have. The jobless rate won't get back to pre-recession levels for more than four years. Budget forecasts have the official unemployment rate still at 6.5 per cent in June 2022 and 5.5 per cent in June 2024. Treasury's modelling shows economic slack will continue over the next five years, with GDP below its potential until 2025.

This is a national jobs crisis which the government is failing to address. By contrast, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has laid out a plan to make this generational crisis the start of a new era of prosperity and fairness. It's a plan that's about creating the jobs we need today and training our people for the jobs of the future, making quality child care a right for all families, easing pressure on living standards and giving women more opportunities in the workforce, rebuilding Australia's manufacturing sector, creating jobs and opportunities for skilled workers and powering our economic recovery with investment in clean energy and new electricity transmission infrastructure. The contrast is clear. Labor has presented a plan that puts jobs first and the future first. The coalition is withdrawing support for jobs and just telling Australians hit by the recession to suck it up and wait for the economy to get back to normal in four or five years time.

Never in the history of the Commonwealth has so much money been spent for so little impact as it has been by this government. Look at what they're doing right now. They're removing JobMaker and JobSeeker. The cuts in September have cost my electorate deeply. We've seen 17,000 recipients of JobKeeper have their payment cut and 20,000 recipients of JobSeeker have their assistance cut. The fortnightly hit to the electorate of Shortland is $22 million. Just imagine that for a minute—$22 million taken out of the Shortland economy every two weeks, money that is urgently needed by my businesses to keep those businesses afloat. This is a government that is removing assistance at exactly the point when we need that money. This is a government without a plan to rebuild Australia, without a plan to rebuild our economy. It's all about a plan to win the next day's headlines. It's all about a plan of spin and marketing by a Prime Minister who is all photo op and no follow-through. My question to the assistant minister is: with a country in economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Australians having lost their jobs, why is the Prime Minister more interested in marketing slogans than in bringing forward an agenda to drive jobs and growth?

12:16 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Some commentators have suggested that the 2020 federal budget was blokey and focused on hard-hat industries such as transport and infrastructure, construction and manufacturing—

Mr Conroy interjecting

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order, Deputy Speaker: I think the member for Shortland should be quiet while we're listening to a question on the women's economic statement.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member is entitled to be heard in silence.

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for the interruptions. I'd like to continue about women's role in our economic recovery.

In his budget reply, the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, made comments in a similar vein. This is an archaic and, to be frank, borderline sexist view of the modern Australian workforce. It is premised on the idea that women are excluded from the high-skilled and high-paying industries where the jobs of the future ultimately lie. It is critical that we correct this gendered view of the workforce. The Morrison government is guided by the belief that a strong economy, grounded in private enterprise and scholarship, allows citizens to realise their aspirations. The 2020 budget centres on the premise of unshackling industries to allow us to deliver a strong, modern and resilient Australian economy now and into our future. It is about creating high-quality and sustainable employment opportunities for all Australians.

Modern manufacturing is critical to a modern Australian economy. It plays a key role in almost every supply chain and adds significant value to all sectors. It is important, however, to stress that we are not talking about the manufacturing of old. We're not talking about men in blue overalls bending metal. We're talking about complex, high-value-add manufacturing using smart technology and levering off research and development, design, logistics and services. We're talking about modern industries such as medical technology, recycling and clean energy, food and beverage, defence and space.

As we pivot from the health crisis to our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic, building on both our established and emerging strengths in modern industries such as these is critical. I'm particularly keen to see women step up to seize the opportunities of the manufacturing revolution of the 21st century, and so too is the Morrison government, with sizeable investments targeted at women in STEM, including in the 2020 Women's Economic Security Statement. More than 14,000 female apprentices and women have already benefited from the Morrison government's $2.8 billion supporting apprentices and trainees wage subsidy. The $1.2 billion commitment to the new Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements, which subsidises employers to take on new apprentices, will also greatly benefit women. Likewise we are supporting greater participation and outcomes for women in vocational education and training through the $585 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package.

The 2020 budget includes $25 million for the women in STEM cadetships and advanced apprenticeships to create STEM career pathways for up to 500 women, through industry supported and advanced apprenticeship-style courses starting just next year. I'm particularly keen on these initiatives as a woman in STEM myself and knowing that these are the high value-add jobs of the future. These are the sorts of things that help to close the gender pay gap.

Importantly, the Women's Economic Security Statement includes a $50 million investment, increasing women's workforce participation and measures to encourage more women into traditionally male dominated sectors. The benefit of enabling women in these fields is ultimately threefold. First, it supports our economic recovery post COVID. Second, these roles are often high paying and will help us to bridge the gender pay gap. People often think the gender pay gap is about the fact that women are paid to do the same job but paid differently to do the same job. In fact, the gender pay gap in Australia is more about getting women into high paying jobs. Third, increasing women's workforce participation promotes economic growth. We all know the three Ps of economic growth: participation, population, and, of course, productivity. This is so important to get women into the workforce to make sure they're getting the high paid jobs. KPMG estimates that halving the gap between women and men's workforce participation will produce an additional $60 billion in GDP by 2038 and cumulative living standing standards will increase by $140 billion. As we reimagine the Australian economy we need to also reimagine the role of women in the workforce and ensure they grasp the opportunities provided with both hands. My question to the minister is: could the minister please explain how the Women's Economic Security Statement will further the prosperity of women in the post-COVID economy?

12:21 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to follow up on questions regarding Australian women and what this government's not doing to further advances for Australian women. Women working on the frontline, in predominantly underpaid and undervalued roles, have carried Australia through the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this women also experienced the worst adverse economic and social implications at the peak of the crisis. Since February 21 per cent of the female workforce, or 1.3 million women, have lost work or are experiencing pressures on their capacity to retain paid work. Women's workforce participation has disproportionately decreased with 115,000 women leaving the labour force altogether.

The government chose to exclude short-term casuals from JobKeeper, including hundreds of thousands of jobs in the female-dominated sectors that experienced the worst impacts of the shutdowns, such as tourism, arts, hospitality and retail. Cuts to the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement in September also had a disproportionate impact on women. Women are losing $137 million more per fortnight than men, with an estimated $465 million taken from their fortnightly incomes compared to $328 million for men. Women with dependants and older women already face pronounced risks of poverty and homelessness, now made worse by these cuts.

The superannuation early release scheme has increased risk to women's already inadequate economic security. More than 1.7 million women have stripped $13 billion from their retirement incomes. Over 300,000 women have emptied their accounts entirely. More women under the age of 20 years and between the ages of 36 and 55 have made withdrawals compared to men during COVID-19.

The pandemic has also dramatically increased the caring burden on households, especially parents juggling their jobs, homeschooling and caring for children. ABS data suggests this increased child care and household burden was disproportionately borne by women.

Women are also experiencing risks of violence. 1800RESPECT received 1.5 times more calls in 2020 than in 2019. Half of the women experiencing abuse told an Australian Institute of Criminology survey that the abuse had become more extreme since COVID-19. Frontline service providers have reported an increase in women experiencing violence for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to all of this, the Morrison government has failed to produce a meaningful plan to make sure that women don't go backwards as a result of this pandemic. The Morrison government has racked up $1.1 trillion of debt, but the Prime Minister's Women's Economic Security Statement contains just $240 million in spending on small initiatives over a five-year period and is without a plan to improve participation of women in the workforce. This is equal to just 0.024 per cent of the trillion-dollar debt racked up by the Morrison recession.

More broadly, the 2020 budget contains no new funding for frontline domestic and family violence service providers that support women and children escaping violence. There is a $1 million cut from the government's anti domestic violence education program in Australian schools, Respect Matters. There's nothing new to address the gender pay gap, nothing on superannuation and women's economic security in retirement, nothing on child care and nothing for social housing. The 2020 budget doesn't contain a single measure that directly addresses women's long-term and structural economic disadvantage. The government's response to criticism of this was what? 'Women can drive on roads too.' It's not just the 2020 budget that is the government's failing of Australian women—

Dr Allen interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Stop the clock. Member for Higgins, the member for Newcastle is entitled to be heard in silence, as you were heard in silence.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Petty interjections don't deter me one little bit. The government's 2018 economic security statement is still not fully implemented. The member for Higgins might want to look at that. It promised to focus on workforce participation, earning potential and economic independence. All of these three pillars have since gone backwards under your watch. The Morrison government's missed the opportunity to put forward a genuine reform agenda. My question to the minister is: why has the government failed women so badly in this budget?

12:27 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

For all the rhetorical flourishes and crazy interjections from the Labor Party opposite, I'm grateful to receive the question from the member for Higgins and am also very keen to respond to the questions that have been raised by members opposite, because they actually go to the same thing: what is the government doing in the Women's Economic Security Statement—both the 2018 statement and the 2020 statement—that builds on our earlier messages? Our overarching objective is to return Australians, women and men, to work and to boost prosperity as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. With that in mind, the 2021 budget provides $98 billion of response and recovery support under the COVID-19 response package and the JobMaker plan. It brings the government's overall support to $507 billion.

Increasing women's workforce participation is an economic and social priority. I mention the core economic effort that we are making. The JobMaker plan aims to drive down the unemployment rate and drive stronger economic recovery for all Australians. The 2020 Women's Economic Security Statement builds on the government's COVID-19 economic recovery plan by providing the targeted, tailored and specific support needed to help women overcome barriers to full participation in the economy, and it significantly builds on the 2018 statement, which was an initiative of a previous Minister for Women in the member for Higgins' own electorate. That shows that our commitment to women's economic security did not just arrive in this budget, it's been there for a long time.

In this budget, the $240 million package over five years covers a wide range of measures to provide targeted support for women, to strengthen their employment opportunities, their pay, their participation and the flexibility that we all demand in our workplace and in our lives, because women all have different choices. They make different choices about family, work, training and early childhood education at different stages in their lives. What we aim to do and what we will do is support those choices, as and when they happen.

The statement that the member mentioned focuses on five key priority areas: to repair and rebuild women's workforce participation and further close the gender pay gap; to bring greater choice and flexibility for families to manage work and care; to support women as leaders and positive role models, such as the member for Higgins and the examples that she brings from her electorate to this parliament; to respond to the diverse needs of women; and to support women to be safe at work and safe at home.

We will invest $50 million in the women at work program to help restore and exceed the level of women's workforce participation, which was at a record high pre COVID. It expands on the existing Women's Leadership and Development Program to create jobs and employment opportunities for women, including those from diverse backgrounds.

The Morrison government will establish a respect at work council to provide practical support to employers and employees to prevent and address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. We know it's a barrier to women's workforce participation, particularly for women working in male-dominated fields, and the government is committed to eradicating it from Australian workplaces.

Our existing commitment to women's safety is well known. On 29 March we announced a $150 million domestic violence support package as part of our COVID-19 response. The package is in addition to the $340 million the Commonwealth had already invested under the fourth action plan. Since 2013 we've invested over $1 billion to prevent and respond to violence against women and their children.

The 2020 Women's Economic Security Statement includes investment across other portfolios: building female founders, to support start-ups and women entrepreneurs; the paid parental leave work test to provides flexibility for parents at this difficult time; the ParentsNext program, again supporting parents with children; and the expansion of our women in STEM programs through cadetships and advanced apprenticeships to create those STEM career pathways for up to 500 women, who will become beacons their communities. As I said earlier, the package builds on the 2018 Women's Economic Security Statement, and it complements the wide range of existing government supports, including JobTrainer. It will support women into jobs now and help drive economic growth in the future.

12:31 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

When the bushfires and COVID-19 hit, Australia's public service was struggling under the weight of seven years of Liberal-National cuts and mismanagement. By the end of 2019, the government had slashed 18,000 APS jobs since it took office, including cutting 1,705 APS jobs in regional areas. In 2019 alone, it cut 2,270 staff from Services Australia and 1,260 staff from the ATO. So, instead of having a strong public service ready for a crisis, we had to scramble. In March we saw shocking images of queues around the block at Centrelink offices as people desperately tried to access services. Hundreds of thousands of people were unable to access the myGov website because of capacity issues. It was so bad that the minister initially tried to blame hackers, only to later concede that he'd got it wrong. In this budget the government has had to give top-up funding to essential government agencies just so that they can maintain their core operations. This seems to be an admission that the staffing cuts along with the $9 million in funding cuts through the efficiency dividend have gone too far. Minister, my first question is: why did it take an unprecedented health and economic disaster for the government to admit that it has run down the public service to an unsustainable level?

During the same period the government slashed the size of the public service, it's spending on contractors and consultants doubled. Contractors and consultants engaged by this government now cost taxpayers around $5 billion per year. Some of the most important service delivery departments and agencies now have an extraordinarily high reliance on contractors rather than APS staff. At the Department of Veterans' Affairs, over 40 per cent of staff are engaged through labour hire firms—40 per cent. At the aged-care regulator, 27 per cent of staff are temporary contractors. These agencies are trying to support our veterans and keep aged-care residents safe during COVID-19, yet this government continues to impose arbitrary caps on the number of public servants they can hire, forcing them to resort to temporary staffing arrangements. My questions to the minister are: when will this government finally admit that its policy to cut staffing levels has been a total failure, and why are taxpayers spending so much money on fees for labour hire companies to do little more than put public servants onto their books as contractors?

12:34 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is committed to the government's five-year JobMaker Plan to drive sustainable private-sector-led growth and job creation—through tax relief to households, through the bringing forward of the government's infrastructure investment pipeline, through the JobMaker credit that was passed in the Senate last night, and through supporting apprentices as well.

I'll be very quick in my remarks, knowing that I don't want to cut into the time of my colleague, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and the important considerations that will come after this session. I make the point, though, that the government is very thankful for the work of hardworking members of the Public Service right around the Commonwealth in supporting Australians in their time of need. The gratitude from this government has been commented on on a number of occasions by this government. Whether it be Services Australia, whether it be the agencies that have been created through the COVID commission, they supported Australians at the time when they needed support. One of the things that I've been very proud to see is the very many members of the Australian Public Service who have been reallocated from their existing work into other areas of need as a result of this pandemic. They've put up their hands, they've volunteered and they've done exactly what this government would expect of them to support Australians when we need it the most.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Federation Chamber will now consider the Indigenous Australians segment of the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, in accordance with the agreed order of consideration.

12:35 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make an opening statement. As was pointed out by the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the 2020-21 budget provides the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio with appropriations for ordinary annual services of $2.3 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. Of the total appropriations for the portfolio, $1.8 billion relates to Indigenous affairs, with funding provided to the National Indigenous Australians Agency, Aboriginal Hostels Limited, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Indigenous Business Australia, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

We are investing in new services and initiatives to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have sustained economic and social opportunities as part of our economic recovery plan for Australia. The 2020-21 budget builds on the existing $5.4 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which sees work continuing on projects to reduce the rates of Indigenous incarceration, youth suicide, and family and domestic violence, as well as improving the health, safety and wellbeing and the educational, employment and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are also forecasting $1.4 billion in expenditure from the special accounts over the coming four years. This includes funds from the Aboriginals Benefit Account to the four Northern Territory land councils and the Office of Township Leasing for operational purposes, as well as discretionary projects specifically for the benefit of Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory. Outside of the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, we have continued our commitment of $4 billion in Indigenous health funding over the coming four years through the Department of Health, including $976 million in 2020-21.

The government is rebuilding our economy by stimulating economic regional development activity, ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people secure appropriate, affordable housing that is aligned with their priorities and needs. This will also contribute to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. To enable this, Indigenous Business Australia will receive an additional investment of $150 million over three years to deliver 360 home loans for new housing construction in regional Australia. The extension of the IBA's Indigenous Home Ownership Program will support over a thousand jobs in regional Australia and increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized housing. This helps Indigenous families move into their own homes and start to build intergenerational wealth while addressing overcrowding and stimulating the economies of regional and remote Australia. Building on our significant investment in housing for remote communities in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, this budget also provides $100 million to the Queensland government to deliver more housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Queensland. The payment is part of the agreement reached with the Queensland government to assume full responsibility for housing in remote communities.

The 2020-21 budget reaffirms the government's commitment to supporting the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The government would enhance the next phase of closing the gap with an investment of $46.5 million over four years to develop the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled service delivery sector. The funding supports the commitment of the national agreement under Priority Reform Two and will help improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Productivity Commission will also receive $10.1 million over four years to provide independent oversight and accountability of progress under the national agreement.

The government is also continuing the return of cultural heritage initiatives by investing a further $10.1 million over four years for AIATSIS to secure the return of more cultural heritage to traditional owners and custodians. The budget includes $4 million to create four new Indigenous ranger groups to care for country, which will bring Indigenous knowledge and connection to country to support water and natural resource management activities within the Murray-Darling. This builds on the $40 million Aboriginal entitlements program and our commitment to appoint an Indigenous board member to the Murray-Darling authority.

With these new investments we're ensuring that the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic do not slow down progress to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. These new measures build on my announcement in April 2020, where we made available $123 million over two financial years for targeted measures to support Indigenous businesses and communities. Our budget reflects the way in which we are considering the economic and social opportunities for Indigenous Australians right across this nation and optimising better pathways and better futures for the young who are coming through our systems, and we will continue to work in concert with state and territory jurisdictions.

12:41 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Before going to the substance of what I want to say today, I will first put on the record the five questions to the minister that Labor is seeking answers to. The first question is: Minister, given the results published in the RBA's annual report, how confident are you that the target of $150 million in loans will be met, how many loans or houses do you expect will be achieved, and are you confident that the figure will be met? The second question is: given the shortages and the issues facing remote communities, would this money have been better spent in remote housing? The third question is: as part of the co-design consultation process budgeted for in the 2019-20 budget, has the consultation process recommended a makarrata commission or something similar? The fourth question I would like to put on the record goes to the consultation process referred to in question 3. Has a treaty process been recommended? If there is no such recommendation, will the government consider a treaty process? Finally, it has been reported that the government voted down a motion to fly the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag in the Senate this week. Minister, will you consider joining me in putting forward a motion to change the House Practice and include flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the House? They are the five questions that I put to the minister. I will now go to some of the points that I wanted to make.

In relation to housing, of course, this pandemic has reminded us of the importance of a home—and you cannot properly self-isolate if a home is overcrowded. Indigenous Australians make up three per cent of the Australian population but account for 20 per cent of all persons who are homeless as at the last census. The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation estimates that, in some parts of Australia, an average of 17 people are living in a single, small dwelling with five or six people to a single bedroom. The high rates of overcrowded dwellings in First Nations communities was included in the recently revised Closing the Gap targets—to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized housing to 88 per cent by the year 2031.

I will now make some specific comments on a voice to the parliament, reconciliation and the flag. The Uluru statement called for three modest asks: a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to the parliament, a makarrata commission to oversee the process of agreement and treaty-making, as well as to oversee the process of truth-telling. Labor remains committed in full to the Uluru statement. We have always said that First Nations people are best placed to address the challenges that face us. This necessarily means First Nations people have a say in the decisions and laws that affect us. It means a voice that represents gender balance and a voice that represents Indigenous Australians in our regions as well as our cities. It means a voice that is secure and certain and cannot simply be removed by the government of the day. A makarrata commission is about treaty and agreement-making, and we know that a number of treaty processes have commenced, as the minister would be aware, in a number of jurisdictions. Proper and meaningful reconciliation means recognising our past, as a nation, and the atrocities faced by First Nations peoples. We must recognise this past if we are truly to unite as one country. It is knowing and acknowledging this past, and healing, that is required to move forward. We've recently heard from the Prime Minister that the singing of the national anthem at rugby league games unites us. What will unite us in recognising and acknowledging our First Nations past? (Time expired)

12:46 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I want to acknowledge the great work being done by this government to support our First Australians and to touch on some of the fantastic Indigenous initiatives being delivered in my electorate of O'Connor. My vast electorate extends from the Noongar lands in the south to the Wongi lands of the Nullarbor-Goldfields region and the Nangadadjara lands on the edge of the Central Desert. As you will recognise, their needs are as varied as their postcodes. Most recently, Minister, you visited the beautiful coastal town of Esperance to announce nearly a million dollars of funding certainty for the Tjaltjraak Rangers. I have long been a supporter of the Tjaltjraak Rangers' job-readiness training programs, their environmental restoration and cultural survey work and their successful efforts in reconnecting disenfranchised youth to their country. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of engaging with many other O'Connor Indigenous rangers, with each group performing highly specialised tasks particular to the needs of their local environment and communities. The Ngadju Rangers showed me their monitoring of malleefowl behaviour and predation via camera traps in the Great Western Woodlands, and the Tjuntjuntjara Spinifex Rangers described controlling feral plants and animals and maintaining water sources in the desert.

Beyond the significant government investment in Indigenous rangers, I'm pleased to see a further expansion of the Indigenous Protected Areas program. Early in October, Minister, you announced that an additional seven million hectares of land, an area larger than Tasmania, would be placed in the care of traditional custodians for biodiversity and conservation, through the dedication of two new IPAs in Western Australia. The newly announced Ngadju IPA covers almost 4.4 million hectares near Norseman, in my electorate, and includes one-quarter of the Great Western Woodlands. Regarded as the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean-climate woodland on earth, it is home to 21 vertebrate species and 166 plant species listed as threatened or priority species. Through an additional $15 million commitment, announced in 2017, there are ongoing consultations with traditional custodians on the dedication of other IPAs, including Spinifex Pilki in O'Connor.

While I've spoken of government investment in conservation, Indigenous job-readiness and cultural enrichment outcomes, I'd like to mention some of the broader investments of this government in the 2020-21 budget: the continued commitment to the $5.4 billion in Indigenous advancement strategies to support programs that reduce the rates of Indigenous incarceration, youth suicide and family and domestic violence and improve health, safety, wellbeing, education, employment and other economic opportunities; the continued commitment of $4 billion in Indigenous health funding over the coming four years; $46.5 million over four years to support the National Agreement on Closing the Gap; $39.8 million over four years for the Clontarf Foundation, which is active through my electorate, improving the self-esteem, confidence, leadership skills and engagement of young Indigenous students; and $40.1 million over three years from 2021-22 to extend services to provide specialist early intervention to support at-risk children and families with complex needs.

Additionally, Minister, this government's Indigenous Procurement Policy program continues to grow towards the goal of three per cent of all Commonwealth contracts being awarded to Indigenous businesses by 2028. Indigenous Australians will also benefit from increases to mainstream services, including more funding for mental health and suicide prevention initiatives; expedited handling of family law matters; more support for victims of domestic and family violence; increased numbers of apprenticeships and trainees; and a package of measures to support regional Australia in recovering from the impacts of COVID-19.

Lastly, but by no means least, Indigenous Business Australia will receive an additional investment of $150 million over three years to expand the Indigenous Home Ownership Program and provide new construction home loans to Indigenous Australians, including in regional and remote Australia. These new construction loans will support over 1,000 jobs and stimulate an extra $300 million in economic activity by unlocking financing for a significant pipeline of shovel-ready new homes. This investment will support Commonwealth COVID-19 economic stimulus efforts, demonstrate commitment towards closing the gap and increase movement through the housing continuum to home ownership. Repayments from loans made with the initial equity injection will be reinvested in the Indigenous Home Ownership Program through new loans to Indigenous Australians. The measure has a positive impact on the government's underlying cash balance of $12.7 million over four years from interest receipts on loan repayments. Could the minister please provide further information on the response to this announcement and, in particular, the take-up in Western Australia?

12:51 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Before the onset of COVID-19, in 2016 more than 53.4 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in very remote areas were living in poverty. Even in urban areas in 2016, average Indigenous household incomes were approximately three-quarters—77 per cent—of average non-Indigenous household incomes. In 2018-19, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey found that in 2018-19 over one-third—38.6 per cent—of very remote Indigenous households experienced hunger. In addition, over half—51.7 per cent—ran out of money for basic living necessities.

University studies have attributed the increasing poverty in remote areas to at least four factors. First, the abolition of the former Community Development Employment Projects scheme, CDEP. Second, the inadequate rate of social security payments. Third, the higher level of disengagement from government systems—for example, from 2018-19 NATSIS data, more than half of working-age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in very remote areas were neither working, studying nor receiving JobSeeker payments. Fourth, the very high level of payment suspensions and penalties applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Community Development Program, through which JobSeeker is delivered in remote areas.

The reforms so far to the current CDP program have been nowhere near sufficient to change the current level of poverty. The temporary increase in social security payments as a result of COVID will also not change the ongoing level of poverty and will indeed have an impact because they're going to be reduced. Furthermore, because Indigenous people are disproportionately employed in casual roles as unskilled or semiskilled labourers and as service workers, they are likely to have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 recession. Minister, how will this budget address the endemic poverty and disadvantage particularly in remote Aboriginal communities?

Secondly, I want to go to issue of housing, which was referred to by the shadow minister. In 2017, the government's own remote housing review recommended that across Australia an investment of an additional 5,500 houses by 2028 was needed. It also pointed out that overcrowding still exists and the population is growing. In fact, on a graph, the population curve is going up and housing is staying flat, so the gap is widening. Bear in mind that overcrowding would still only be reduced by about one-quarter as a result of the government's proposed expenditure. This means that, for a house that has 16 people living in it, the overcrowding is reduced to 12 effectively.

In the NT, the NT government and the federal government are currently spending over $1.6 billion over 10 years. The current spending in Queensland will bring the total to over $1.8 billion. Add to that the total of $121 million provided by the federal government to WA in the 2018 agreement plus an amount to South Australia, and the total funds provided by the government is only around $2 billion, far short of the $3.3 billion that is required. Minister, how will this budget address the chronic housing shortages in remote Indigenous communities?

I also want to raise very briefly two other matters. Firstly, NACCHO has pointed out that building much-needed new Indigenous health clinics is an effective way to stimulate the economy. They estimate that $900 million is needed to bring our national network of clinics up to scratch—and there are over 550 of them across the country, as you would be aware, Minister. What resources are being made available, or are required, to bring the national network of clinics up to scratch?

Lastly, I want to raise the issue of Juukan Gorge. In the 2020 budget, there is $2.2 million over four years from 2020-21 to speed up application processes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. The Commonwealth heritage protection law has been widely criticised, as we know, since the destruction of the Juukan caves at the Juukan Gorge heritage site. With that tragedy in mind, this measure is hugely inadequate and invites further and similar horrors. Minister, what changes is the government proposing to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to ensure that there is no repeat of the Juukan caves disaster?

12:55 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The wonderful work that Minister Wyatt is doing in his portfolio for Indigenous Australians is having a real impact on the ground in local communities, including in my electorate of Lindsay. Recently, the minister and I caught up with our local community and outreach organisations. The feedback we received was that, because of coronavirus, as our schools reopened, many of our kids weren't getting back to school and attendance rates had dropped. Minister Wyatt and I both share the same passion for education and we're working closely together to address these challenges to make sure more kids are going to school. I know the minister is working closely with all states and territories to ensure that our kids continue with their education so that they have the best start in life. As the local federal member, I want to ensure that our kids don't fall through the cracks and that they have as many opportunities as possible.

This week is NAIDOC Week, and at our local schools and across our community we're celebrating the contribution and culture of Indigenous Australians. But there is more that we must do to break down the barriers facing young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids, and education plays such a key role. Education not only improves quality of life, it unlocks opportunities to get a job, contribute to the community and find your calling. There is always more work that can be done, like reducing the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy, because we know that these are all key elements and fundamental to a good education. In saying that, more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are exceeding national minimum standards, better positioning them to transition to further study and work. It's important we keep this momentum and encourage our communities to help our kids foster a lifelong love of learning.

In the budget we've committed $39.8 million over four years for the Clontarf Foundation to support young Indigenous students and improve their self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills. This funding will deliver an additional 2,000 places, above the 10,500 already on offer, and will have a direct impact on the education of Indigenous students that's so important as a foundation for their futures.

I spent time this week with the minister to talk about the importance of education, and the minister shared how education had made such a big difference in his own life. While we couldn't be there in person, we recorded a NAIDOC message to the students at Cambridge Park High School in my electorate of Lindsay to encourage our local kids to think about their future and what they want to do with their own education journeys and careers.

Minister Wyatt said that if he hadn't followed through on his education and didn't have those opportunities, he wouldn't be in this place. He spoke passionately about the teachers who had influenced him, even from year 1. This set the foundation from an early age to value his education. Minister Wyatt learned to value his education so much that he got a Bachelor of Education and became a teacher, passing on that lesson to his students, as he continues to do now.

Education plays such a pivotal role in putting kids in our community on pathways to local jobs. From educating our kids to supporting local businesses, we are paving the way to employ our kids in the jobs of the future. In October, Minister Wyatt launched a new Indigenous Business and Employment Hub in Western Sydney. The hub will help Indigenous businesses in Western Sydney make the connections they need to grow and sustain their business, and explore opportunities to create more jobs. They'll be able to connect directly to the knowledge and expertise they need through training, seminars and specific business growth support.

The Yarpa Hub is working with Indigenous businesses right across New South Wales across industries including construction, health and—one of my favourites—manufacturing. There are over 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in my community of Lindsay, from the students at Cambridge Park High School and right across our community. Education plays such a key role for their future.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Remainder of bill—by leave—taken as a whole and agreed to.

Bill agreed to.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.