House debates

Monday, 15 February 2021

Private Members' Business

COVID-19: Economy

12:17 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that in July 2020, the UN Sustainable Development Goals index ranked Australia third globally for our management of the COVID-19 crisis, but 37th for our long-term direction;

(2) acknowledges that prior to 2020, Australia experienced 28 years of economic growth, where annual GDP growth peaked at 5 per cent and troughed at 2 per cent—but notwithstanding that GDP growth, inequality has increased, wages have stagnated, more people on low and precarious incomes are being left behind and the natural environment is in a fragile state;

(3) recognises that COVID-19 has illustrated that it's impossible to separate the wellbeing of our people from the health of our economy, society and environment; and

(4) calls on the Government to consider developing a national account of wellbeing in order to judge the success of recovery from the global pandemic, not just by how swiftly the economy rebounds, but also by whether our country is meeting measures of what Australians value as contributing to a 'good society'.

Economic prosperity fairly shared must play a central role in our national agenda, but, in order for Australia and Australians to truly thrive, it should be embedded in a larger story of wellbeing, of people, of communities and of the places we live and love. My argument is that, if we take the approach of national wellbeing and national economic growth being indivisible and if we measure and report on both at the same time, Australia can be a country that not only is excellent in a crisis but also one that takes full advantage of prosperity in all of its dimensions. Right now we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to, as economist Kate Raworth has put it, 'change the goal'.

Previous generations have done it. Between 1901 and the first World War, Australia built a thriving democracy based on the living wage, supplemented by an aged pension, an interventionist state and a near-universal franchise that included women but, sadly, not First Nations people. After World War II, Australian governments committed to full employment, mass migration, a huge expansion of housing and, later, the broadening of tertiary education. From the eighties, sweeping reforms deregulated and opened the economy; expanded the social wage with Medicare, family support and superannuation; and better protected the environment. These kinds of profound national changes all followed crises which impacted health, wealth and wellbeing, and in all instances political leaders and leaders from civil society, business and unions addressed immediate challenges but also took one step back to forge a simple, compelling narrative for reform that the population could rally behind and that would endure. Now, more than 40 years since the last period of major change, we can decide to view the health, social and economic damage wrought by COVID-19 as also providing the conditions for a re-imagining and renewal of the country we love.

Before the events of summer 2019, 2020 and now, sadly, 2021, we were all aware that Australia is a country of people who care not just about their physical and mental health but also that of their families and friends. They cherish connection to community, are concerned about the health of the natural environment and the planet their children will inherit, and want to live in a society that is broadly equal and fair. But COVID-19 and devastating bushfires demonstrated to all of us how fragile what we value the most really is. Right now, we have an opportunity to decide how we as a nation can secure what we value. We can judge not only the economic sense of our recovery from the global pandemic; we can also decide to set our collective trajectory towards a future where prosperity is harnessed to deliver a uniquely Australian concept of national wellbeing, and we can decide to measure our success not just by how swiftly the economy rebounds but also by whether our country is meeting identified measures of what we value as necessary for a good society.

Measuring wellbeing is neither a new nor a radical suggestion. Simon Kuznets devised a measure of national income after the Great Depression and he noted:

The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income ...

Infamously, the American Senator Kennedy described GDP as measuring everything except that which we hold dear. Once, Australia led the world in this area. The ABS was the first national statistical organisation to measure wellbeing. In 2004, the Australian Treasury developed a wellbeing framework, which was sadly discarded by this government, and in 2013 the Australian National Sustainability Council produced measures of sustainable wellbeing, which was work also discontinued by this government. And we now have a Treasurer who has mocked the suggestion of a wellbeing budget, which ignores both the history of GDP development and the modern international trends.

Various international jurisdictions have considered what a national account of wellbeing might look like—for example, France's Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, the OECD High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the New Zealand wellbeing budget, and the work undertaken in Scotland, Iceland and here in the ACT. We should be developing an Australian approach. I suggest a quadruple-bottom-line approach to measuring national wellbeing. Economy, society, environment and democracy could provide the foundations, and the specific line items under each of those measures could reflect a modern Australian description of what is required for or what constitutes a good society. We know we have plenty to build on with our pioneering work in the past and the strength within our communities and institutions. We can emerge from this current crisis with national policy settings which ensure that we grow not only wealthy but also wise and well, working towards the future we want together. It won't happen without a government committed to introducing a framework within which to do it, and I commend a wellbeing budget as a central part of such a framework.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

12:22 pm

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

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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

I rise today to highlight and defend Australia's profound dedication to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and our post COVID recovery. I think there are very few people in Australia who don't actually believe that we are in a very good position in this country and that we are very lucky to be Australians. That is not down to any accident; that is down to the good governance of this country by the federal parliament, led by the Morrison government, the state governments and territories working together and, indeed, local councils. Australia actually should be celebrating our achievements in the year 2020. That's not to say that quite remarkable tragedies haven't happened across this great country, but the framework that has been put in place—firstly, the response to the bushfires, followed by the response to COVID in 2020—is something to be remarked on and celebrated in this great nation.

I'd like to firstly say that our response to COVID has been quite special and unique internationally. Australia took very early steps to close its borders internationally. That was internationally regarded as something quite unexpected. In fact, when you speak to experts who informed the evidence for that decision, you understand that it was a decision that had not been made lightly and had not been undertaken without a great deal of discussion and forethought. Indeed, the decision to close the borders was the greatest public health decision made in this country. That included bringing quarantine measures to Christmas Island so that those who were returning initially from Wuhan returned through Christmas Island. There was great international outcry that this was a negative step, but it has been seen to be a very important first step to keeping this country safe. Then there has been a whole ream of measures undertaken for aggressive suppression, understanding we remain connected internationally to the rest of the world but knowing we have to learn to live with this virus. We can't lock down the whole country without making sure we are keeping the economy safe.

What I would like to say is that the dual economic and health crisis that this country has faced has been well addressed by this government's response to COVID, and, more importantly than that, this government cares about the things that are important to Australians. That includes the dignity and respect of having a job. We can see that clear philosophical understanding by this government, about the respect people have for the dignity of work, in the economic response which was JobKeeper. I have had so many of my constituents write to me, email me and phone me about what a lifesaver JobKeeper has been. Last week the Prime Minister came to visit Higgins, and I was able to introduce the Prime Minister to a number of businesses in my local electorate and show him the impact JobKeeper has had, with the temporary transitional support given to them to help them through what has been an unprecedented health and economic crisis in this country.

The issue about JobKeeper is the philosophical underpinning that it was about keeping employees connected to their jobs, connected to their workplaces, connected to the dignity of work. We are seeing now that JobKeeper has been a wonderful transition to the other side of COVID. We are now in a good position nationally, albeit unfortunately still in lockdown in Victoria, for the COVID vaccine rollout that is coming at speed. The COVID vaccine rollout gives this country a very important opportunity. I welcome the COVID vaccine national rollout, and I hope all Australians get behind this in a bipartisan way because this is going to give us, as a country, an opportunity to get in control of the COVID pandemic in a way that would not have been foreseen one year ago. Being a medical researcher myself, I know that the speed with which this vaccine has been developed and manufactured, and is now about to be rolled out, is unprecedented in medical research history. It is in fact a modern miracle.

The Australian government has got behind this vaccine development and rollout with investments, with partnering. To have the vaccine developed, grown and manufactured here onshore is a really good thing for the Australian population. It will, hopefully, turn COVID from a deadly disease into a serious and nuisance disease. In order to do that, we need to get behind the COVID vaccine rollout. To go forward as an economy and as a nation, we need to have the trust and respect of the Australian people. I think 2020 has shown that we have a government that is sensible, that is pragmatic, that is not ideologically driven and that is going to continue to lead Australia to better outcomes going forward.

12:27 pm

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

I thank the member for Dunkley for this motion. The wellbeing of people is clearly linked to the health of the economy, society and environment. But Australians shouldn't be surprised that, as the motion says, under the Morrison government Australia now ranks 37th in the world on the SDG index for its long-term direction. Indeed, on numerous critical measures Australia has been falling behind the rest of the world after more than seven years of this Liberal government. Australia is less productive, more unequal, more corrupt, less happy, more indebted, less affluent and less trusting of public institutions than when this mob over here were elected in 2013. That is nothing to do with the pandemic; it is the government's record. Global rankings and independent reputable data show that the Liberals mismanaged the economy badly for seven years before the COVID-19 pandemic, just as they're now mismanaging the recovery.

The reason we hear the government say every day in question time 'our economic plan'—they keep talking about the economic plan—is to cover up the fact there is no plan: 'If we say "plan" a lot, people will believe there's a plan.' The truth is that the Liberals are hopeless economic managers. They hate hearing this because it is part of the myth, the brand propaganda, that people think they manage the economy well: 'Yeah, we're nasty, divided, cruel, out of touch and rich, but that doesn't matter; we're okay with the economy. Don't worry about the truth.' But the facts don't lie. Examine their record of failure in their eighth year of government. Real wages were lower in 2019; after six years of this government, real wages were lower in Australia than they were when this government was elected. We are third-last in the OECD globally for wage growth. Well done, government! Working families have less in their pockets than they had when this mob over there were elected. The government's response to this: new laws to allow bosses to cut wages. What a great idea!

Shockingly, the latest OECD figures show Australia's economic productivity in negative territory. Under Labor productivity growth was the 10th highest in the OECD. Under the Liberals it ranked fifth last. Australia's housing market is now the third most unaffordable in the OECD. The government's response: wheel out nutty backbenchers to say, 'Let everyone spend their super on housing and push up the cost of housing'. What a brilliant idea!

As has been said, our health response was led by state premiers and ranks eighth in the world for success. But the latest comparative OECD data shows Australia lagging badly behind in the jobs recovery, at 18th out of 28 nations. In 2010, under Labor, after the GFC Australia ranked fifth in the world for jobs performance. Today we rank just 18th. Even $1 billion of taxpayer funded advertising from the Prime Minister, the failed marketing man, is not enough to change the fact, or cover up the fact, that our economic performance was failing badly before COVID-19.

We heard about JobKeeper from the previous speaker. Australia's only weathering the recession because of the wage subsidy schemes and the boost to social security that Labor and the unions proposed. For weeks last year this marketing guy, the Prime Minister, refused to act. Tens of thousands of Australians joined the unemployment queue in that gap, who should have remained attached to their employer. Eventually he introduced JobKeeper, a scheme so well designed that it has been milked by millionaires and billionaires to pay themselves executive bonuses. That just goes on the national debt. Well done, government! We should really thank you for that!

Of course, a few weeks ago the Prime Minister turned up to the National Press Club to try a bit more spin to try and cover up and distract from this record of failure. Mr Dennis Atkins aptly wrote afterwards:

It was the speech of someone who doesn't think deeply and whose vision extends only to the bathroom mirror.

Australians deserve more from this government than a failed marketing man.

When the PM won the 2019 election he opened his victory speech by asking: how good is Australia? He has since developed the truly inane habit of repeating that question over and over and over again. But an honest answer to the inane question in the eighth of this year of this government is: not good anymore. Australia's economy is going backwards and Australians are being left behind by the government.

Facts still matter. As the member for Dunkley said, Australia is more than just the economy. The health of our society is about the environment and education outcomes. Have a look at education outcomes. Australian children are now outperformed by their peers in 23 countries in mathematics, 12 countries in science and 10 countries in reading. Performance in maths and science under this government, relative to the rest of the world, has fallen. Degree costs for students are amongst the highest in the world. The average annual student borrowing jumped 36.7 per cent in four years. Well done, government! We're happy about that. It's not good enough, but the Prime Minister tells us we're leading the world. We're leading the world in vaccines are we, government? We just heard that from the previous speaker. There are two continents in the world where you can't get a vaccine: Australia and Antarctica. Around the world 140 million people have been vaccinated. We're at the front of the queue are we? It's all a load of marketing spin. The facts speak for themselves.

12:33 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Dunkley for moving this motion and for making some of the points she did. I agree with the basic premise that it is wrong to separate the wellbeing of our people from the health of our economy, our society and our environment. Having a strong economy is not, and should never be, a standalone goal. No government should ever pursue a strong economy simply to tick a box or to say how great we are.

As I said in my first speech to parliament: a strong economy is dependent upon ensuring that our country has all of the essential services and ingredients which are vital to our national wellbeing. We need educated, skilled, healthy people. We need quality infrastructure. We need social services to help those in need and we need a secure, protected and safe country so we can deliver a strong economy. But we need a strong economy to deliver each of those. They are entwined.

We need a strong economy to ensure that people have the opportunity to reach their full potential and to provide the choice and freedom to people to live their best lives. A strong economy is the gateway to what Australians value. It's the gateway that ensures Australia has a world-class health system, which provides universal access to affordable medical services. It's the gateway to investment and innovative thinking so that we can get our best minds tackling environmental challenges, tackling health crises. It's the gateway to creativity, the arts, leisure, sports—all of the things which broaden our lives and bring us joy. Having a strong economy ensures that, when something like COVID-19 comes along, the government is in the best position it is able to be in to support the Australian people with support measures like JobKeeper, JobSeeker and JobMaker.

I actually agree with the member for Dunkley that governments shouldn't solely measure economic success. We also need to measure and monitor outcomes in other areas. The government does this already through a variety of existing mechanisms. Because of the lack of time, let me simply focus on health.

In 2017, the Australian government, with states and territories, agreed to the Australian Health Performance Framework—a vehicle to support system-wide reporting on Australia's health and healthcare performance. This was followed in December 2019 with the release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 'national front door', which serves as a navigation tool to access data on the health of all Australians. As we can see from the national front door, Australia's health and wellbeing are improving in certain areas. For example, in 2017 there were 324 acute coronary events per 100,000 people compared to 379 per 100,000 in 2013. But the national front door also notes things that warrant attention, such as the increase in deaths by suicide. There were 12.1 suicides per 100,000 people in 2018 compared to 10.7 in 2009.

It's important to recognise that the government responds to and is informed by these realities, because all of us recognise that behind a health statistic is an individual. Governments must always strive to use the data they have at hand to direct policymaking and improve outcomes. We can see how the government is responding to these measures and the monitoring of different systems by how it is responding to the increases in suicide and mental illness. It includes the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan and the recent launch by the government of the first phase of the $89.5 million intergenerational health and mental health study, which will focus on mental health and wellbeing. Actions like the fifth national plan and the intergenerational plan help inform our long-term direction.

The economy is not some separate entity from individuals, nor is the wellbeing of individuals separate from the economy. They are interrelated and they must be. As the Productivity Commission's report into mental health that was released last year showed, the cost of lost productivity due to mental health was conservatively $12 billion. But we also know that you cannot measure mental illness purely in monetary terms. No government should ever be single-mindedly driven by economics, and we're not.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives

Sitting suspended from 12:37 to 13:11

1:11 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion moved by the member for Dunkley. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty to all of our lives. We've lost loved ones, we've been separated from family and friends, we've faced lockdowns, businesses have folded and jobs have been lost. As our country begins to show the first signs of recovery, there is a growing sense that we need to change how we measure the success of our nation—to move beyond the traditional metrics of national income, such as GDP, as indicators of success, and to develop a new way of capturing our overall wellbeing as a country. COVID-19 has been a stark reminder to all of us, that it's impossible to separate our wellbeing from the health of our economy, our society or the environment. Considering more than just national account figures to capture our national success—to focus on the economy, of course, and the health of our society, our environment and the strength of our democracy—could provide the foundations for a post-COVID-19 or COVID-normal approach.

A wellbeing approach or wellbeing budget would provide an opportunity for a genuine whole-of-government, joined-up approach. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for such a joined-up, whole-of-government approach, especially in mental health. Mental health isn't just a health issue. Your mental health is impacted by where you were born, where you live, where you work and your age. These underlying causes can impact our lives suddenly and often without warning: insecure work, housing stress and financial hardship.

In its prebudget submission for 2020-21, Mental Health Australia said:

There is clear evidence for the need to address the social determinants of mental health in order to reduce the impacts of mental illness. … Australian research has found people who have recently experienced financial hardship are 23% more likely to experience decreased mental health in the next year, and people experiencing severe psychological distress are 89% more likely to experience financial hardship in the next year.

That explains so many people and their circumstances last year and into this year.

Even before the pandemic, inequality was rising and wages were stagnating; COVID-19 has only made things worse, exposing the fault lines in our society, particularly in regional and remote communities. At the height of the pandemic there were 36 jobseekers for every job vacancy on the Central Coast, where I live. There were nearly 5,000 businesses with close to 19,000 employees on JobKeeper and many are fearful of what may happen when support is cut in March. It is measures like a wage subsidy, called for by Labor, which led to the UN Sustainable Development Goals index ranking Australia well for our management of the COVID crisis. However, the same index ranks our long-term direction at 37th.

On Sunday, before parliament came back, the Treasurer appeared on Insiders and ruled out the possibility of extending JobKeeper, stating that it was always a temporary program. The Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe expressed concern about job shedding after JobKeeper is removed. The January Sensis Business Index highlighted 'increasing distress about the loss of the JobKeeper lifeline that saved hundreds of thousands of businesses from going under due to COVID-19 lockdowns.' From the survey, 60 per cent of transport owners said the loss of JobKeeper would have a major impact, up from 25 per cent in November, and 36 per cent of health and community services said the loss would have a major impact—again, up from almost 24 per cent. And 35 per cent of manufacturing businesses said it would have a major impact, up from 21 per cent.

The government can talk about a recovery and that we are all in this together, but businesses and industry, particularly in some communities and sectors, are jittery. In the National Suicide Prevention Advisor's interim advice, one of the main recommendations was that the government should develop a Commonwealth process for reviewing new policies or initiatives to ensure that they assess any impacts, positively or negatively, on suicidal risk or behaviour.

The government has consistently declared mental health to be a priority, and I believe that the Prime Minister is genuine in this commitment. The release of the Productivity Commission's final report on mental health gives the government a pathway towards reform. In his Press Club speech on 1 February the Prime Minister declared that there would be a new national agreement on mental health and suicide prevention this year. But what people across Australia need is action now. It's urgent. The delayed release of the Productivity Commission report wasted valuable time in which to begin implementing recommendations and actions of the report and the chance to respond in the October budget. This delay has also meant that no announcements were made during the October budget. The May budget is now only three months away, and the government's response: a mental health committee to report on the findings of reports stemming from the committee which began its work in 2018.

We can't go back to the old ways of measuring wealth in society. We must look beyond income and start measuring our society as a whole. This will help us to emerge from this crisis a fairer, healthier society.

1:16 pm

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

I want to start by acknowledging the member for Dunkley for moving this motion today on COVID-19 and the economy. The thing we can agree on in relation to the motion is the importance of remembering that the wellbeing of a nation and its people is a lot more than economic statistics—a concept the Deputy Speaker might find hard to fathom, but it is certainly true that there are a range of measures that should judge a nation and how well it's performing.

But the disappointing aspect of this motion—and it's a disappointment that we see consistently through what the opposition is doing in this place—is its glass-half-empty approach to Australia. Unfortunately the opposition, at every opportunity, is determined to talk down Australia and its achievements. That is implicit in the wording of the motion we have before us today. It's a disappointing approach, because if there's anything we should have learnt from the last 12 months it is how high we can hold our heads as Australians on the global stage. Our response to the COVID pandemic has been to deal with an individual crisis, but through that response Australians and their governments have demonstrated all that is good about our nation and the reasons we are such a success.

It is something I see in my own electorate. I see the greatness of Australians in helping each other. It is true to say that my electorate, by relative standards, is an affluent one. But it is still an electorate where there is so often a need for support for those who are more vulnerable. And I see, through the range of voluntary organisations that exist in my electorate, Australians coming to support each other. I also see that Australia is, despite what the opposition would have you believe, such a successful nation. As part of our duties as local members of parliament we all attend citizenship ceremonies, and it is fair to say that we get such a phenomenal response from those new citizens, who are so excited to be joining the Australian family because they recognise that there is no better place on earth to be making their home and their future.

I particularly want to turn to the health aspects of wellbeing that are being raised in this motion. Again, I think the past 12 months have demonstrated the extraordinary success of Australia in achieving the wellbeing of its citizens. For example, the Lowy Institute has rated Australia in the top 10 nations in terms of managing the health consequences and the economic consequences of the COVID pandemic. Being in the top 10 nations of almost 200 is something we can be exceptionally proud of.

It's also perhaps a time to remind those on the other side about what the Morrison government is doing to improve not only the nation's economy but also the health and wellbeing of all Australians, outside the conditions of the pandemic that we're seeing at the moment. Combined with strong and decisive action taken by this government and informed by expert advice, Australia's world-class health system guarantees universal access to affordable medical services and is ranked No. 2 in the world by the respected and independent Commonwealth Fund. That is why we have been so well prepared to meet the challenges of COVID.

In addition, the government has continued to make significant investments to support access to high-quality medical services, along with longer-term reforms. Whether it's our strong support for Medicare—our NHS, but I would argue a lot better and more successful than the NHS—the support we're giving for life-saving medicines and their availability at low cost to Australians, our achievements in achieving a record level of bulk-billing, our investment in medical research to make Australia the leader it is and can further be in medical research and science, or the work that I've seen as chair of the House's health committee—all of these things point to the incredible contribution that we as a government, that we as a nation are making to the wellbeing of Australians when it comes to health.

The National Health Reform Agreement sets a clear reform direction for all Australian governments to ensure we can help reduce pressures on public hospitals, shift more towards hospital avoidance programs and increase sustainability while improving peoples' health. The numbers speak for themselves: a record four-year investment of $467 billion into health; investment into Medicare of $119.3 billion over 2020-21; $41 billion for medicines funding and the creation of the new PBS New Medicines Funding Guarantee; ensuring hospital capacity with a $133.6 billion investment over five years. This points to the type of work that this government is getting on with. Of course we can make our nation better—the task of government is never-ending—but we can be so proud of all that Australia has achieved and will continue to achieve.

1:21 pm

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

This is an important motion moved by my friend the member for Dunkley, and it raises some important questions about where we're going as an economy and, more profoundly, how we are doing as a society, and how we might do better. I was pleased to be in the chamber for the remarks of the member for North Sydney. He talked about his disappointment. Well, what disappoints me about the member for North Sydney and, indeed, about his government is their view that they are not only entitled to their world view, but to their own facts.

This motion clearly sets out some facts that should be concerning to all Australians. This government is a government that seems resistant to truth telling in every aspect. We have seen that this morning. We have seen that in its response not only to the great challenge of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, but also to responding to the generous offer that First Nations people have given us to walk with them on their terms, not on the terms of this government. So I am disappointed that the member for North Sydney and the government, of which he is a part, can't accept these facts or some of the challenging statistics that the motion before us sets out.

It does set out the great achievements of our economic growth, and that's something that we should celebrate; but we can't look at that in isolation from some of its consequences, in particular the increase in inequality. This is something that has been shown to all of us as local members. It's so readily apparent and hard to ignore, through the experience of COVID and the pandemic response, where the gaps between those who have and those who have not have been so cruelly exposed.

This motion really asks us to consider two things: inequality and the consequences of growth. I would have thought that was a matter that members from all side of politics would be conscious of. It is the case that Australia is becoming a more unequal society. For me, that's a moral challenge. For those of us on the Labor side, it is a moral challenge. But we know now that there is an emerging economic consensus that this is actually a barrier to growth. It is something we need to respond to if we're going to ensure our economic recovery is all that it could and should be.

We also have to reflect on the experience, more broadly, of the pandemic, what it has revealed, the gaps in our safety net that have been cruelly exposed, and also for us to think about what really matters to us as communities and as a nation. We know the things that we decide to measure really matter. They drive the decisions we make in this place; they drive the work of the public service; they drive our political debate. I share the member for Dunkley's conviction—also so eloquently expressed recently by the member for Dobell—based on her experience as a representative, and in her former life, that we need, as a government, to take a broader perspective on these matters. We need to ask, as the English commentator Will Huttner said, 'How good can we be' not to cheerily talk about 'how good is', as the present Prime Minister is so fond of doing, and to seek to mark our progress towards this goal of a good society, of a country every bit as good as the Australian people, all of them.

This isn't a novel concept that's being advanced today. The shadow Treasurer, when he talked about the need to measure things more broadly, referred back to Robert Kennedy's1968 remarks that GDP 'measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.' In this place all of us but particularly those who occupy the government benches for now have the opportunity and also the obligation to do whatever we can to make life worthwhile for all Australians. We have the tools that will help us do this internationally, with the sustainable development goals and the work of the OECD, which is something that members opposite should have regard to. Yet the Treasurer seems to think this is something that's worthy of mockery, often in offensive terms. This is unworthy. He should have look around the community that he represents and recognise that we are less equal in Australia right now than we were before the pandemic and that this is getting worse.

Before the pandemic, we were headed in the wrong direction. We can't continue down this path. We have often heard said in this place and elsewhere by politicians on all sides that we are all in it together, but, until we take a more rounded approach to measuring the work of government, we will not all be in this together. We need to turn this around. We need to recognise and honour the sacrifices of ordinary Australians by building a future that's secure for all of us.

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.