House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

3:20 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The failure of the Government to act in the national interest.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:21 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, this has been quite an extraordinary fortnight in this parliament. From time to time, we speak about waste in the form of this government's attitude towards public funds. We've spoken about sports rorts, the capacity to rort absolutely anything and distort outcomes politically—even security from the Minister for Home Affairs—and regional grants rorts. Everything this government does, it puts a political focus on it. I do think that the biggest waste of taxpayers' money that we've seen is the $190,000 of taxpayers' money spent on an empathy consultant for this Prime Minister, because this Prime Minister is an empathy vacuum. All he understands is politics and he consistently acts in his own political interests rather than the national interest. This is a prime minister Australians know doesn't have their back because he's too busy looking after his own. This is a prime minister who is not on the side of Australians.

We saw it firsthand in this term of his prime ministership, I think, with the issue of the bushfires. Remember that? 'I don't hold a hose, mate,' was his response to justify his complete complacency in the lead-up to those bushfires. What we know is that that complacency and lack of empathy has continued with a complete failure to look after people who are still living in caravans or who are still waiting for support in electorates like Gilmore, in electorates like Eden-Monaro and in electorates like Macquarie, but also in electorates held by government members. There has been a complete failure, for example, to allocate money based upon an annual allocation for an emergency response fund; zero was spent last financial year.

We saw it as well during the pandemic. We know that the federal government is responsible for the issue of aged care. We've lost 685 older Australians to the pandemic in aged-care homes. Scott Morrison's response: 'When it rains, everyone gets wet.' That is what he actually said. Now we're seeing the rollout of the COVID vaccine being bungled—one more area this government's responsibility where, I expect, we will again see a lack of empathy from the Prime Minister.

We've seen it with regard to the robodebt debacle. People were given bills for money that they didn't owe to the government, with tragic consequences. There was literally a loss of lives as a result of that. From this government there was no response, no empathy whatsoever. They settled a court case in order to try to move the issue on.

This is a prime minister who has a management textbook where his heart should be. He's a political manager, not a prime minister. In his world, appearance beats substance every time. I have said before, he's all smirk and mirrors. It's always about the play, always about the spin, always about what the politics of an issue are; not about addressing issues on the basis of their substance.

We see it with the squirming that we see in question time every day, where the Prime Minister purports to suggest that the story isn't changing every day—that somehow we all knew, weeks ago, that at the beginning of last week the Minister for Home Affairs was added to the list of ministers who knew about the reported sexual assault on Brittany Higgins. We know now that the minister's chief of staff told his chief of staff. But, again, apparently, it would be alleged that still no-one told the Prime Minister. We know that a member of the Prime Minister's staff knew two years ago, because that member of the Prime Minister's staff was the chief of staff to the minister for whom Brittany Higgins worked, and that was the office where the reported sexual assault occurred. He's just playing with words to say that his office did not know. That is just a fact.

A second member of his staff, we know through the text messages—including to Brittany Higgins—said that it would be raised with his chief of staff. That was two years ago. A third member of his staff knew that the alleged perpetrator was dismissed two years ago. And the person who Brittany Higgins describes as the 'fixer' in his office checked in with Ms Higgins, not once, at the time of the reported sexual assault, but also after the Four Corners program last year.

So we had ministers who knew, and his office knew. People knew it had been reported to the AFP. The minister had actually asked for a report on what the appropriate response should be during that period and received it before Brittany Higgins was put back into the room for a meeting where the reported sexual assault occurred. Yet this Prime Minister would have us believe that no-one told him—no-one told him! The circumstances are still that the only person who seems to have actually lost their job and suffered here is of course Brittany Higgins—the victim. For everyone else it's all okay. He said that he's disappointed that the chief of staff didn't tell him, in spite of the media, other ministers' offices and everyone telling him that it had occurred. It's just absurd. The questions that were being asked by journalists and by others were not a trivial matter. At the end of the day, these were allegations about a serious crime. The idea that he did not know is just not credible.

And, to rub salt into the wound, he has his former chief of staff doing an inquiry into what his office knew. We've asked pretty simple questions—things like, 'Why don't you just ask your chief of staff what happened and tell us?' But, instead, we have the Gaetjens inquiry—the same person who looked after the sports rorts inquiry—and it's going to be a cabinet-in-confidence document. So it won't be released. Come back in 30 years! It's just extraordinary that that's the case.

The fact is that the fish rots from the head. This is a government characterised by cover-up, a government characterised by treating taxpayers' money as if it's its own and a government that is not on the side of the Australian people. This is what characterises the government. Whether it's sports rorts, community safety rorts, grassgate, watergate, forged documents or matters as grave as bushfires, the pandemic or reported sexual assault, the Prime Minister always thinks about the politics and he never accepts responsibility. It's always someone else. No wonder this government doesn't want a national integrity commission. This Prime Minister promised it in 2018 but the fact is that they've walked away from that commitment as well.

We see it in this parliament with legislation. The only thing we did yesterday was to change a couple of words about freedom of speech; that's quite ironic from a government that shuts down freedom of speech in this chamber. They don't have an agenda coming out of the COVID pandemic; that is very, very clear. They have an agenda about themselves, an obsession with themselves, an obsession with protecting themselves.

This Prime Minister doesn't have your back because he's too busy protecting his own back. He doesn't have your back if you want security of work. He doesn't have your back if you want to be confident of safety in your own workplace. He doesn't have your back if you expect him to keep renegade MPs like Craig Kelly from endangering public health. He certainly doesn't have your back if you're risking your life delivering food for $10 an hour on an old bike. This government—and we supported them—stood up on the issue of the media code. But when it comes to standing up on the issue of gig workers, they say, 'It's all too hard; it's complicated.' What's complicated about paying people the minimum wage in this country? What's complicated about decent wages and conditions that most Australians take for granted? The fact is that this Prime Minister has shown a lot about his character since he took over the job. Empathy lies outside of the limits of Scott Morrison's character. That's clear to one and all, and unfortunately it's been on full display in the last fortnight.

3:31 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

This MPI really is a bit of a dorothy dixer for the government today. To say that this government doesn't have the national interest of Australians at heart is a dorothy dixer. Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, you're a smart man. You and I have rusted-on Labor Party voters coming up to us in our communities and saying, 'I don't vote for you, but I think the Prime Minister and your government are doing a really good job.' They say we're doing a good job on two fronts, because they're concerned—

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

The assistant minister will pause for a moment. Those members leaving the chamber will do so quietly and quickly.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The majority of people, even Labor voters, are saying that to us because at their hearts, their major interests right now and what is dear to them are the two things we have been talking about as a government for the last 12 months: the health of our country, of our population; and the jobs of our country, of our people. That's what people go home and think about. Their health and their livelihood are their major issues. We, on any international measurement that you want to have a look at, are doing well on the health front. Even though every fatality has been a tragedy, we've been one of the countries in the world with the lowest ratio on the fatality front. On the economic front we are doing better than just about any other country in the world.

Deloitte, an international accounting firm, said four or five weeks ago that there is no better country in the world to be in right now than Australia. Why is that the case? Some of it is the parameters the federal government has put into place. The Australian public has done a wonderful job, too, adhering to the education things we put out. We declared this a pandemic before the World Health Organization; that's how quickly we were on the front foot about this. We saw the dangers of the pandemic on the health front and on the economic front. It is because we've done so well on the health front that we're doing better than most on the economic front. We brought in restrictions. We did the whole education process about hand hygiene and social distancing, and the Australian people, God bless them, got on board. That has been one of the big reasons we've done so well. Our fatality rates are lower than just about any other country's, and our economy is doing better.

If people remember, it was about this time last year that around the globe we were all becoming aware of what we might be dealing with. The language back then was: 'You've got to flatten the curve. We can't have a situation where too many people want ventilators and they're not available, so the main thing you have to do is flatten the curve.' We went well beyond flattening the curve. There have been some hiccups. I don't want to be partisan about this, because we should all really be on the same team with this; I won't mention Victoria and Dan Andrews, and I won't mention some of the hiccups we've had. Generally we've done very well. We have flattened the curve. We have done better than flatten the curve. The worst-case scenarios that were modelled, that we were worried about and that we as a government had to deal with—we've done better than what any of those models predicted.

And what an exciting week this was! This is probably one of the first weeks that we've started to get on to the front foot in this pandemic, with the vaccine rollout. We're in phase 1a, with aged-care workers and quarantine workers, and all those who are highly exposed or highly at risk, getting the vaccine this week. It's a six-week rollout, which, as the health minister gave an update on this morning, is on time. This is a really exciting week. If we had known 12 months ago how we were going to manage this pandemic—yes, there have been some hiccups—how this country was going to manage this threat that we had, we would have been really happy that this was going to roll out the way it has.

We've spoken a little bit about health, but I want to touch on the economy as well. People are worried about their health, but they're worried about their jobs, too. We're not out of the woods—the globe isn't out of the woods. This virus could mutate, and there are a lot of unknowns about what could happen from here on in. We're certainly not out of the woods. One of the things the pandemic did that we were all very concerned about—we knew what we had to do on the health front, we knew we had to flatten the curve, we knew we had to have restrictions and we knew we had to close businesses temporarily to try and get everything under control—was that people just could not get enough staff; that was the unknown then. I had major concerns about what this might do to our economy, not just to our local economies but to our national economy and, indeed, to the global economy, because we faced great threats and still do. But even on the economic front, we have done exceptionally well.

I'm sure it's probably the same in your patch, Deputy Speaker, but one of the biggest issues that we have in my patch is that people can't get enough staff. And these aren't necessarily just jobs that people don't want. These are good jobs. People normally want these jobs. People would normally be falling over themselves to work in some of these trades or in some of these retail and hospitality jobs. And we just cannot get enough staff. But this hasn't happened by accident. We all hear and read reports from overseas. I've read reports just this week from the UK, Spain and South Africa. There are a lot of countries right now doing it really tough. So this hasn't happened by accident.

I go back to the budget. We brought down the budget later than normal last year because of the pandemic. What did we focus on in the budget? We focused on jobs. We did everything we could that we could think of that we thought would motivate small, medium-size and large businesses to employ people. And, touch wood, so far that's working.

We know that eight out of 10 jobs in this country are in the private sector. So what did we do? We have spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars, over $200 billion, in stimulus spending. We know JobKeeper was an exceptionally important thing we did right at the start, to make sure the employee had a relationship with their employer. That was very important. Some of these businesses, especially in April last year, had to shut down through no fault of their own. We knew it was very important to keep those relationships going and to keep that money spinning around the economy.

The other thing we did in the budget was the tax cuts. We talk about wanting wages to increase. A tax cut is a wage increase. We gave a tax cut to 11½ million people in the budget last year. We gave the JobMaker Hiring Credit. We gave a subsidy for businesses that are going to employ a new person, especially young people aged between 18 and 35, and that's worked. Then there is the instant asset write-off; I mention this one nearly every time I come into this chamber, because of how powerful it has been. It's a magnificent economic stimulus that we used quite a number of years ago, on a much smaller scale. We put that in the budget last year, and we put it on steroids. I've had numerous businesses around my electorate say: 'That works. Every time you announce that and it gets publicised, we see further spending.' Especially after the budget last year, there's been big stimulus spending on the back of that. So, again, we are focused on health, focused on keeping us safe and focused on jobs.

Here are some of the other highlights from this to keep the economy ticking over. We're doing a $2 billion investment in R&D, because what this pandemic has also done is to highlight that we talk about being a more self-reliant Australia, and we're certainly looking to do that. Yes, because of this we have seen some weaknesses in different supply chains that we need to correct, and we are doing so. Again in the budget, we brought out a manufacturing plan across six different areas: defence, space, medicine, food, resources, and recycling and clean energy. We realise that we are putting government assistance into those areas to make sure our supply chains are solid and that we can do anything that's really important to us.

The other exciting thing in the budget, I thought, was the apprenticeship scheme. Why? Because it was focused on jobs. There was special regional funding as well. It's created its challenges, but one of the quite pleasant and interesting spin-offs from this is that there has been movement of people from cities to regions. The regions, obviously, are doing very well. There's a lot of pressure on with people moving, with houses and rentals, but there are a lot of good things happening in the economy.

3:41 pm

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

When asked, 'What qualities do you deem most important in a politician or a political leader?' Australians answered three things: honesty, truthfulness and trust. They are the results of a survey by the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership. Australians care about ethical behaviour. They want their political leaders to demonstrate those values of honesty and truthfulness.

If those are the qualities that Australians care about then they have been left behind and let down by a Prime Minister who doesn't hold a hose; a Prime Minister who claims that he knew nothing—nothing—of an alleged sexual assault just metres away from his office, where the story changes on an hourly basis; a Prime Minister who had to ask his wife how to respond to the sexual assault. I'm the mother of boys. I have two sons. Should that change the way in which I respond to something as serious as a sexual assault? This is a Prime Minister who's presided over sports rorts, grassgate, watergate and forged documents and who shrugs off his responsibility, whether it's in response to bushfires, to quarantine or, indeed, to an alleged sexual assault.

Just this week, we saw that a general practitioner with no training was administering doses of this much-awaited vaccine. We can't put this down to human error, because it's not human error; it is actually a systemic vulnerability, just as with those people in Bendigo who waited for their doses of the vaccine that didn't arrive. It is a systemic vulnerability, and it happened because the government were so busy crowing on about themselves that they actually forgot to do anything about it. They actually forgot to put in those systems and ensure that the system for distributing the vaccines was not open to such vulnerabilities. That is the story that we've seen while this government has been in power.

This Prime Minister sets the bar for other members of this government. We have the Minister for Home Affairs walking around this place as if he wears his underpants on the outside, as if he's the saviour of the universe, as if he's going to save each and every one of us. But it's very clear that what he's interested in is saving Liberal seats. We saw him overrule his own department on grants on safer communities. He walks around talking about how he's going to keep everybody safe and then overrules his own department in order to fund seats that the government were interested in keeping. Even I know pork when I see it. Even I know that's pork. Even the member for Chifley recognised that as pork.

One of the things that I love about our citizenship ceremonies is that when Australians take the pledge of citizenship, they do something that is, in my mind, unique. They pledge their loyalty not just to Australia; they pledge their loyalty to Australia and its people. I love that part of the citizenship ceremony. Every time I attend a citizenship ceremony, it brings a tear to my eye to know those who become new Australians are pledging their loyalty not to this thing called a nation but to the Australian people. Where is this Prime Minister's loyalty to the Australian people when he fails to act in the national interest, instead acting in his own political interest? Australians are not a target audience to be segmented and to be targeted in some slick marketing campaign. They are real people with real lives and real issues and real concerns, and they want better from their leadership. They want better from this Prime Minister who 'doesn't hold a hose, mate'.

3:46 pm

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say to the previous speaker, the member for Cowan, that I do enjoy her addresses.

My dear friend Barry Jones has a dear friend. I recall hearing his dear friend Phillip Adams say on his 'little wireless program' some time ago that he's very nervous when he hears a politician talk of the national interest, because it usually means the politician's interest. I would not like to alarm Mr Adams, but I want to refer obliquely to the national interest as I see it in this place, and I quote former leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who said: 'I firmly believe that any man in public life, or woman, who thinks that politics to him or her is just a job that will provide him with an income is making the most gross of all errors. The truth is that we must be servants of the people, but, in order to be servants of the people, we are not to be servile. We are not to look at every problem and then say, "Will this be popular or will this not be popular?" Because if that is the kind of leadership you're going to get, it will lead the country to disaster. It is not a matter of saying, "Will this please somebody," it is a matter of saying, "Is this the right thing to do if Australia is going to grow, if the country is going to become richer and or more powerful, if employment is to rise, if living standards are to rise," and, sir, that presents a problem which is a great challenge to many a man of character, honesty and imagination.'

When we come to a proposition like this—'in the national interest'—I say the decisions that we make in this House, the decisions the executive make and the decisions that we make as individuals can sometimes be very difficult. We test those often against the will of the people who elect us to the parliament, the people who actually put their pencils on pieces of paper to say, 'I want this person to represent me in this house.' This is crucially important to our national wellbeing. That's why I've always been a very strong supporter of compulsory voting, because everybody—everybody!—goes into that booth and has a go and says: 'This is who I want to support me. And if I can't get that one to support me, I get two or three other chances by ticking the other boxes.' It's a very, very good system to decide who represents—and what did they do at the last election? The whole nation came and voted, and they were within one seat or two seats of who held the majority in this House.

The people of Australia made their decision, and they expect us to not only represent them and their interests; they expect us to represent our parties that clearly put us here and they expect us to make decisions at a national level having regard to what is said in our party rooms, what is said in our caucus, and to bravely then make a decision. As a woman said to me one day, 'We didn't put you in there to be a yes-man; we put you in there to make decisions on our behalf.' Throughout my many years in this place—although I've been thrown out more times than anybody else in the history of the parliament and am still here—

An honourable member: Welcome back.

Thank you very much. I have had 21 years and I've seen very good people in this place wrestle with their conscience. There is a difference between the opposition—and I'm not talking about the Independents—and the Liberal Party. When Andrew Fisher formed the Labor Party and put the coalition together he said, 'If you vote against us, you leave.' Menzies said the opposite. He said, 'You can disagree with us and still stay within the confines of the party,' although that could be very uncomfortable at times. Many members have come into this House and spoken with heartfelt determination and confidence on behalf of the people that they represent. We respect them taking the opportunity to do that. It is an absolute privilege to serve in this House. I hope for all of us our first focus is the national interest.

3:51 pm

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

It's with great pleasure that I rise to make a contribution to this matter of public importance debate on the government acting in the national interest—or the government's neglect, and often missed opportunities, to act in the national interest. I share the view of the previous speaker, the member for Monash, that it is an absolute honour to stand in this House. Every one of us feels that. But I have to tell you that I am a little worried that the Prime Minister and his government have engaged an empathy consultant in order to figure out how they might convince the Australian people that they care. That is a problem. It cost $190,000. It was meant to be $80,000, but there was a big cost blow-out because it's a very big job trying to figure out how you convey empathy if it is not in your genetic make-up. The consultant firm was called Futureye, if I'm not mistaken. It was a little more indicative of the fact that the Prime Minister certainly had an eye on his future and what was needed to be done. Trying to develop empathy, if it's not there at the start, is a big job, so it's no surprise that the cost blew out from $80,000 to $190,000.

When I think about the missed opportunities, the neglect and the failures of this government, there is a very long list. We are in the eighth year of a conservative government in Australia and the list of achievements is not long. Indeed, at the beginning of the week my colleagues reminded me how light on, how lacking in reform, how lacking in vision and how lacking in ambition the parliamentary business of this sitting week was. There is no substance to this government whatsoever. They've become political managers and administrators. There are serious costs to that.

We've seen a terrible crisis in aged care, for example, and the tragic death of 685 people in aged care. Clearly that is a Commonwealth responsibility, but the government shirked its responsibility during the global pandemic in that regard. Quarantine is another clear Commonwealth responsibility. That has been palmed off to the states and territories to govern. With the bushfires, we all recall the now infamous quote, 'I don't hold the hose.' That's part of the problem. This is a Prime Minister who doesn't actually think he is able to make a personal contribution in times of crisis. We've seen that on full display these last couple of weeks, and I will come back to that in a moment.

I was reminded of the failure to spend a billion dollars that had been budgeted for TAFE and training programs, despite a massive skills shortage in Australia; the failure to adopt and take to heart the Uluru statement; the ongoing failure to deliver on a promise to constitutionally enshrine a voice in this parliament and to ensure there's a truth-telling and treaty-making process in this nation; the shocking fiasco of robodebt and the cost of $1.2 billion in court payouts just to try and make this problem go away; and the lack of leadership on climate action, with no effort to diversify carbon-intensive economies in regions like my own. The lack of ambition there is astonishing. There is the failure to make the serious reforms on our National Redress Scheme.

The lack of accountability when it comes to domestic violence is appalling. We know that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been unprecedented demand for services. Whilst this government directed some additional funds that way, we know Women's Safety NSW have told us they need $12 billion over 12 years in order to make some serious inroads into domestic and family violence in Australia. I was at the International Women's Day breakfast this morning. I heard the Prime Minister talk a lot about respect. He didn't talk about equality, he didn't talk about inequities in this nation, and he didn't talk about the serious reforms that must take place in our nation if we're to do better. (Time expired)

3:56 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For everyone in this chamber, it's probably an opportune time to reflect on the last 12 months. We're effectively 12 months on from one of the great health challenges the world has faced, and there's certainly light at the end of the tunnel this week. Honesty, truth and trust: I'm glad those three concepts were raised by an opposition speaker. They are fair benchmarks to be applied to a government. If you walk the streets of Australia at the moment, you definitely get the sense that this is inherently a population of Australians who are very, very happy with the direction of both their federal and their state governments.

Let's acknowledge that, during this COVID period, it's a tough ask to be chipping away at an incumbent government, regardless of which side of politics you're on. I know, Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, you will have experienced that yourself, and, in WA, we're seeing exactly the same thing. It's not an easy game being in opposition. It's easy enough to make a series of talking points about why you don't like the government, but they always seem a little hollow when you leave this green chamber and you notice that those are not the topics people are actually talking about around the water bubbler or the barbecue. What they are talking about at the moment is the nation staying the course and the government being strong enough to ensure that that happens. They want to know that there is sensible tax reform, investment in skills and these elements of direct and local intervention where there are problems. As long as they sense that that's happening, they're going to be pretty happy with how things are going. If you look at basic polls and you see that only 12 per cent of voters actually are undecided about who is leading the country, that's a very impressively low number, because they know who is running the country and they're happy with how it's being done.

They're happy for a few reasons. One is that, as a developed country, we're like a cyclist in a Tour de France peloton and we sit somewhere near the front of that peloton. I can see a recent convert to cycling on the other side, and a not impressive first performance either, I have to say. You'd appreciate that staying at the front of the peloton is always the place to be, not hanging off the back. Australia recognises, as one of just nine countries with a AAA credit rating, it has a reputation to defend. We have 27 years of economic growth. That has come to an end with COVID, but we're bouncing back, with 3.3 per cent growth in the last quarter. We are seeing eye-watering numbers, with 784,000 new jobs created since COVID. These figures are the envy of the world.

You don't ascribe all of that to the government. You ascribe it to the conditions created within the economy, the hard work of employers and the willingness of employees to work cooperatively together. It's a bit of everything, isn't it? It's not about singling out one or the other or identifying who you hate or starting internecine fights. Today is a time to recognise that we are definitely, still with challenges, absolutely on track. You just get that gut feeling that, when each and every one of us go back to our communities, they want a reliable set of hands and to keep staying the course. We can choose not to stay the course; there are easy options there. We can take easy choices, but that hasn't been done, because this government that reduced government spending growth at four per cent per annum, brought it back, responsibly, to 1.3.

Why is that important? Because we were ready for COVID when the great drain came on our fiscal state. And, while we may well have deepened the deficit and deepened debt, in comparison with other countries, we've done exceptionally well. They're right to point out on the other side that that takes us to 35 per cent debt to GDP, but that is utterly manageable in a strong and well-managed commodity economy like Australia's, particularly in this low-interest-rate environment. That makes it important to make sure that we actually do have these local community infrastructure investments in really big projects and that, if someone has some skills, then they're nudged into these great work opportunities in the middle of COVID, not in six or 12 months time.

We learnt a lot about how to manage crises. I learnt it two decades ago, back in the era of Y2K. We didn't learn as much as we could have about the GFC, and 10 years on we have this crisis. What we know about this crisis is that there's nothing more important than keeping people in jobs. One million businesses will attest to the benefits of JobKeeper. And 3.1 million workers will attest to the fact that they saw money coming in directly to their employer from this federal government. The JobMaker scheme targeted the demographics that were most at risk of losing their job. Without for a moment wanting to generalise, women—often in hospitality, tourism and major events—under the age of 35 were annihilated by COVID, and this government was right to have a job-making hiring credit in there.

I've had a few tussles with Treasury. My big policies personally have been the deposit assistance scheme and a JobMaker employment incentive. Both those things are a reality, and this nation says thank you to a government that delivered on them and delivered on them on time, and has maintained a stronger economy that is the envy of the rest of the world.

4:01 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

During question time, one of the favourite responses of government ministers to dorothy dixers is to take the first 30 seconds or so to wax lyrical about the leadership of member X prior to their political career and to then expound on their leadership since they've come to this place. Sometimes it's a stretch. It's a predictable and repeated piece of theatre, even if at times you can feel the pain of ministers reaching to come up with things that underpin the glowing appraisals of their colleagues. God help them if they had to open every response with 30 seconds on the leadership qualities of the Prime Minister!

This is a government that is led by a Prime Minister who always puts political interests ahead of the national interest, a government that lacks integrity and transparency at every turn, where the vast potential of the national cabinet is clouded by palming off responsibility for failures or significant challenges to the states and territories while attempting to take credit for any successes. As many of you know, the great Harry S Truman famously had a sign on his desk that read, 'The buck stops here'. An appropriate sign for the Prime Minister would be, 'I am advised that the buck stops anywhere but here'.

This is a government and a Prime Minister that has let down my constituents and this nation from the cradle to the grave. If you are from a community in crisis following a devastating bushfire, the Prime Minister will tell you he doesn't hold a hose. If you are a young worker who is stuck in long-term casual employment, this government wants to make it harder for you to find a permanent job. When your community was locked down either last year or this year and you were doing it tough, this government went for cheap shots rather than leadership. If you are a mid-career worker striving to save for retirement, this Prime Minister wants you to get less superannuation, making your retirement harder.

If you're a resident in a nursing home anywhere across this nation, know that this Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, cut almost $2 billion from the aged-care budget. If you're a person who cares about transparency in government, know that this is a government that cuts the audit office's budget, has no interest in a genuine integrity commission and looks to cover up first, second and third. If you're a local sporting organisation in desperate need of facilities, this is a government that puts its desperate political interests ahead of your community. And, if you have a young family struggling to pay childcare fees, this is a government that won't help you balance the books.

This is a government whose action on virtually every front is at odds with the wishes of the Australian people. On which of its policies does the government actually have the nation's backing?

On which of its policies are they on your side? On encouraging more insecure work? On refusing to support the minimum wage for every Australian worker? On removing JobKeeper from industries that clearly need it? On not learning the lessons from last year on the value of having JobSeeker at an adequate level? On gutting vocational education and making tertiary education unaffordable for thousands of school leavers? On rorting any grants program that moves? On the lack of transparency and integrity that has become the hallmark of this government? This government are not on your side and they've conducted themselves with an arrogance and an insensitivity which has appalled the nation.

In case the Prime Minister thinks that these criticisms come exclusively from the Labor side of the fence, the House needs no reminding of the extensive commentary from previous leaders of the Liberal Party who are sickened by the rotten state of this government. This is a government from which nobody resigns unless absolutely forced to do so by overwhelming pressure from the public, the media and their own backbenchers. It's all about the cover-up. Is it any wonder that people see a government out of touch with the nation's needs, refusing to take responsibility for its actions and operating on no key principle other than that of its own survival?

It doesn't have to be this way. There are many examples which we can point back to where it was quite different. We can point to Curtin, our great wartime Prime Minister; Chifley, the builder of our nation; Whitlam, the profound reformer; Hawke, the great man of the people who promoted consensus; Keating, the policy visionary; Rudd, the PM who rightfully said sorry; and Gillard, the champion of education— (Time expired)

4:06 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government is definitely acting in the national interest. The Australian people have endured a global pandemic of historic proportions. It is an event which will forever resonate throughout the pages of schoolbooks as children learn of the past. For many countries, the consequences have been particularly devastating. We witnessed the world teeter on the edge of persistent economic turbulence, with death tolls that continue to spiral. The question must be asked: why are we watching countries all around the globe fall into this tragic state while Australia continues to show resilience? Relatively speaking, the death toll in Australia has been low compared to others. While some countries have had their people dying in the hundreds of thousands, we have only suffered a death toll in the hundreds.

Before I go on, I want to make it very clear that every death that occurs is unacceptable. But we have to take a moment to appreciate how quickly we managed to get it right in Australia. We have to take a moment to appreciate that it was through this government's fast and effective response, which involved shutting down the borders and treating this as the serious health crisis that it is, that we have prevented so many more from losing their lives.

If it weren't for the actions of the Victorian Labor Party in mismanaging the crisis they created, the death toll would have been far lower than it is currently. Beyond that, the Morrison government is defying the global trend of rebuilding our economy at an impressive rate. While we were in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, our economy contracted by seven per cent. In comparison, New Zealand's fell by 11 per cent, France's fell by 14 per cent and the UK's fell by 20 per cent. We are still outcompeting our friends across the world.

Now that we have gathered a firm handle on the pandemic, our real GDP is bouncing back. In the September quarter, the real GDP increased by 3.3 per cent. This is far ahead of market expectations. In fact, this is the largest quarterly increase since 1976. On top of this, over a seven-month period last year the Morrison government oversaw the creation of 784,000 new jobs for working Australians and we continue to create more through our innovative programs, like JobMaker and JobTrainer. We are setting Australians up not only for the present but also for the future, all the while continuing to maintain our treasured AAA credit rating from the three leading credit ratings agencies. We are one of only nine countries to do so.

This government has never stopped acting in the national interest. Our strong economy is no accident. The tireless work of successive Liberal governments put Australia in the best position to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the Morrison government that entrenched and maintained the strength of our economy so it could remain resilient throughout this global turmoil. Australians know that Liberal governments are the best economic managers. The results speak for themselves. We are rebuilding the economy, putting people back in jobs and rolling out the vaccine to all Australians. It is only a Morrison government that can keep Australians prosperous and continue to look out for the national interest of this country we call home. I repeat: the Morrison government has always acted in the national interest.

4:11 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a government that consistently fails to act in the nation's best interests. Those opposite only act in their own political interest, and they take no responsibility for anything. They always put their own specific political interests ahead of the country's interests, and they're not on the side of everyday Australians. Always remember: this Prime Minister doesn't have your back. He's too busy protecting his own back and his own self-interest.

We all remember the bushfires and how he had no empathy for those bushfire victims. In his own words, he said, 'I don't hold a hose, mate.' That was his response to this terrible tragedy. The Prime Minister has had no empathy during the pandemic. He palms off his responsibilities to the states all the time. The Prime Minister has had no empathy for all of those coronavirus victims. We lost 685 older Australians in our aged-care homes due to the pandemic. Aged care is the federal government's responsibility, yet the government has refused to take responsibility for it and to act appropriately. Now we're seeing the rollout of the COVID vaccine being totally bungled. That's another thing this government is responsible for and has messed up. There's just no limit to the extent to which this government prioritises politics. No matter what the occasion, with them it's always politics first and Australians second.

Recently the extremely courageous Brittany Higgins told her distressing account of how she was sexually assaulted in a minister's office, just metres from the Prime Minister's office. Make no mistake: in relation to this devastating incident, the Prime Minister is again choosing politics and acting in his political interest, denying all knowledge and saying, 'No-one told me.' Of course he knew, but he walks in here every day and pretends that he didn't. The cover-up continues. Rather than actually reaching out to Ms Higgins, the Prime Minister had his media unit briefing journalists against her. There's no empathy, just politics. There's no humanity, just harm. The Prime Minister has failed to provide empathy, support or respect for Ms Higgins. The Prime Minister and his ministers failed to provide their legally binding duty of care. This isn't a choice you make; it's your legal obligation. We have the highest office in the land refusing to fulfil its duty of care and choosing its political interests over the welfare of a young woman. On so many levels, this is wrong, disgraceful and wilfully negligent.

As a former police officer, I'd like to remind the Prime Minister and his government that rape is not a political problem to be covered up. Rape is a crime. I simply cannot fathom that no-one, not one person in that ministerial wing, fulfilled their legally binding duty of care to Ms Higgins. Instead of giving her compassion and support to get justice, they have just cut her adrift. She's been denied justice. It must stop. Their cover-ups and their denials must stop.

The fact is that Australians have just had enough of this Prime Minister and his government. We see so many of the constant cover-ups, and that is what always characterises this government. It's what always drives them—their own political interests, not the nation's interests. It doesn't matter whether it's sports rorts, community safety rorts, forged documents or really grave matters like our terrible bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and reported sexual assaults, the Prime Minister always thinks about his political interests first and he never, ever accepts responsibility. Australians have had enough of this.

Australians have realised that the Prime Minister doesn't have their backs because he's too busy protecting his own. The fact is he doesn't have your back if you want security of work. He doesn't have your back if you want access to health care or aged care. He does haven't your back if you want to be confident of safety in your workplace. The fact is that this Prime Minister, this government, the Liberals and the Nationals, are not on your side. The only side they are on, all of them—the Prime Minister, all Liberals and all the Nationals—is their own side, their own political self-interest. In doing so, they are neglecting all Australians. They are putting their political interests first and not the nation's interests first.

4:16 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the MPI. Firstly I'd like to say that this government is acting in the national interest of all Australians. We've heard from the member for Monash and the member for Bowman, who were quite eloquent in their speeches, about what this place is about and what our obligations and duties are as elected representatives to the people of Australia. We might talk about the definition of 'national interest'. On this side, the definition of 'national interest' is looking after the interests of the Australian population, SMEs, quiet Australians and all the people who live in and bear the benefits of being part of this nation. Those on the other side, though, have one other obligation which is higher than the national interest—that's their obligation to unions. We've seen that every time they talk about any of our programs. It's always about what the unions want. So their definition of the national interest is the interest of the unions.

Anyone who has played AFL or any team sports can see exactly what their tactics are now. As we know, when people get desperate in team sports, they play the man. They don't play the game anymore; they play the man. The member for Corio's beloved Geelong team is a perfect example. At the 1989 VFL grand final, Mark Yeates, the hard man from Geelong, broke the square and smashed into Dermott Brereton and broke two of his ribs. Dermott Brereton still took the hits, and what happened was the Hawks still went on to win by six points. So playing the man doesn't work. Play the game; don't play the man. What we've seen here in all the speeches from across the aisle is them attacking the Prime Minister—not talking about the national interest but just attacking the Prime Minister.

To get back to talking about the national interest, I'll just talk about some of the things this government has been doing in the national interest. As we know, COVID-19 has resulted in the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Across the world, the equivalent of 600 million people have lost their jobs. The global economy is expected to contract by four per cent this year, compared to just 0.01 per cent during the global financial crisis. So we can see a good contrast there. In April 2020, more than one million Australians lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero. In March, Treasury was contemplating a collapse in GDP of more than 20 per cent in the June quarter. In May, it was forecasting a GDP fall of over 10 per cent in the June 2020 quarter. In the June 2020 quarter, Australia's economy contracted by seven per cent. This compares to around an 11 per cent fall in New Zealand, a 14 per cent fall in France and a 20 per cent fall in the UK.

Now Australia's economy is fighting back. In the September quarter, the real GDP increased by 3.3 per cent on market expectations. This is the largest quarterly increase since 1976. Over seven months, from May to December, over 784,000 jobs were created. Ninety per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who either lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero are now back at work. Australia is one of the nine countries to have a AAA credit rating from the three leading credit agencies. Technically Australia's recession may be over, but our economic recovery is not. There remains a monumental task ahead in rebuilding our economy and supporting jobs in the national interest. As we heard today from the Treasurer, with more good news, the last quarter saw an increase of three per cent in capital investment, the best result in Australia since 2012.

Our economic recovery plan is that the Morrison government has a plan to rebuild our economy and create jobs. The JobMaker hiring credit will support nearly half a million young Australians in work. Our record investment in skills and training will strengthen Australia's workforce. Our manufacturing plan will support the recovery and build our sovereign capability. Tax incentives will help unleash a wave of investment across the country, and tax cuts will put more money into the pockets of 11 million hardworking Australians and their families. We are building the infrastructure we need for the future. We are guaranteeing health care and the essential services Australians rely on. We will do this by growing the economy, not by increasing taxes. Also, to unlock investment, the Morrison government is expanding the successful instant asset write-off. Over 99 per cent of business will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset they purchase for their business. This government is acting in the national interest and making the right decisions and the right legislation to improve the economy and act in the national interest.

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

The discussion has concluded.