Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. However, in Australia our economy is fighting back, and we are experiencing clear signs of recovery. In the September quarter, real GDP increased by 3.3 per cent, ahead of 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. 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.
The 2021 Commonwealth budget will be crucial to our ongoing success as a nation, and the people of Mallee stand to benefit from further investment by the Morrison-McCormack government. Infrastructure investment is crucial to lives, businesses and communities in Mallee. Since coming to office, I've made a point of keeping in close contact with the leaders of each of the 12 shires in my electorate. I know that regional councils often don't have cash left over from their budgets to fund every project that their communities need, which is why the federal government's support is so important to them. Local councils in my electorate have achieved great success through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. This program, announced at the height of the pandemic, has provided the stimulus and support that regional councils have needed to do their part in the economic recovery of our regions. This money is funding vital projects right across Mallee. I was pleased to announce almost $90 million to my 12 local government areas in Mallee in the first round and another $17 million in the extension of the program.
The councils have determined how they spend their funds, and it has been creative. Swan Hill Rural City Council is using $350,000 of its funding to build new change rooms for the netball courts at Riverside Park in Robinvale and another $152,000 for competition-standard lighting for the netball courts at Alan Garden Reserve in Swan Hill. Horsham Rural City Council is spending $150,000 to upgrade Horsham Town Hall for live performances and is putting another $150,000 towards a $3 million effort to revitalise the footpaths in town. Mildura Rural City Council is using $1.63 million to upgrade its streetlights with energy-efficient LED bulbs. It has also put a further $1 million towards the Mildura sports precinct, which has previously received $17.5 million from this government through two previous rounds of the Building Better Regions Fund.
These are just a handful of 99 projects that are underway or completed in the 12 local government areas in Mallee. All of my councils still have several high-priority projects that are ready and waiting to be funded. I have sent a detailed list of these projects to the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister for infrastructure to advocate and show just how much potential there is in Mallee for further effective investment. I trust that our local council organisations will continue to be supported through direct funding support, whether that's through another round of the Building Better Regions Fund, a further extension of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program or other financial assistance for regional councils. I'm fighting for more funds in the 2021 budget to support our local communities to deliver their much-needed projects.
Our potential in Mallee is great and it's being matched by investment from the Morrison-McCormack government. In recent months, we've seen huge demand for the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund. In Mallee, I was contacted by several businesses that were excited to lodge their applications. Australian Eatwell has applied for new processing technologies for an all-new innovative product range of tofu products at their Donald facility. True Foods in Maryborough have applied for funding to expand their facilities for a new product line, and Australian Premium Dried Fruits in Sunraysia have applied for new equipment for their Merbein facility to take their processes to highly advanced levels which will enhance their export possibilities. These are exciting projects, but I'm aware of how popular this round of funding has been and how oversubscribed it has been.
Sadly, many worthy projects will miss out. For this reason, I'm calling for another round of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund to be included in the 2021 budget. We need to continue offering support to these expanding innovative industries that will continue to drive jobs into the future. In Mildura, we are benefitting from the Commonwealth government's Recycling Modernisation Fund, part of the Australian government's $1 billion transformation of Australia's waste and recycling industries. Major co-funded investments across Victoria will double the state's domestic glass recycling capacity, increase our plastic recycling by 40 per cent and create 350 jobs. Mildura will see the construction of a million-dollar glass processing and sorting facility, processing 4,900 tonnes of material each year. This is a huge win for my home town and will create jobs and all the flow-on benefits for industry, community and the environment.
In the upcoming budget, I'm fighting for further commitments to Australia's energy security and renewable technologies. The Technology Investment Roadmap, the National Hydrogen Strategy and continued investments in our nation's transmission network are all welcome. We need to expand on these investments to support our growing renewable sector. On several occasions, I have spoken in this House of my desire to see Mallee become a leader in renewables, hydrogen and biofuels, and this dream is quickly becoming a reality. A local research organisation, the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, has received funding to take part in a nationwide hydrogen cluster through National Energy Resources Australia, NERA. This cluster will advance research on new hydrogen technologies to help develop this emerging industry. I am thrilled that my advocacy for the new Interconnector West, VNI West, to go through Kerang was successful. This will allow the solar energy sector in the north Mallee electorate to flourish and expand. It took a lot of lobbying to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, but I'm really glad we were able to get this project over the line. The state government now needs to step up and agree. Private investors in the renewable industry have had their sights set on Mallee for years, but some have lacked confidence due to the lack of transmission capacity. The VNI West project supports investment and increases our capacity to generate renewable energy and create jobs. The VNI project and other key transmission projects, such as Marinus Link, have been backed by a $250 million investment by the Morrison-McCormack government.
A healthy environment is key to commercial success in Mallee, and this is particularly true for the waterways that embody the soul of our region and support our livelihoods. Recently, it was a pleasure to host the minister for water, Keith Pitt, in Mallee on his tour of the Murray River region. From Cohuna to Gunbower and all the way to Mildura, the minister heard the voices of concerned locals, community groups and farmers. The $6 million Murray-Darling Healthy Rivers Program as well as the changes to the Water Efficiency Program—which has made $1.33 billion available for state led off-farm water efficiency projects—means no more water will be taken from our irrigators. This is news that has been widely welcomed. The Morrison-McCormack government is working to protect the health of our vital waterways and delivering on our commitments to the environment while providing farmers and irrigators with certainty that no more water will be taken from the consumptive pool.
With massive levels of investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, recycling and energy and in the environment, we need to ensure our nation has the skills to match our ambitions. I continually hear that the biggest challenge holding back businesses in my electorate is that of appropriately skilled workers. Through several measures, the Morrison-McCormack government is working to ensure we have the skills that our thriving industries need. Speaking to business owners in Mallee, I know that apprentices and trainees are the future of our industries. My favourite days as an MP are getting out in the electorate and hearing from businesses, tradies and apprentices. Recently, I stopped by Casey's Truck & Tractor centre in St Arnaud. I was sorry to miss my good friend Bernie Casey, but it was a pleasure to meet his son Dale and his grandson Dylan. Dylan is a fourth-generation Casey working in the business and one of several apprentices that are on their way to becoming diesel mechanics. Lachie, Ryan and Dylan are all showing the dedication needed to excel at their trade, and Casey's is supporting them to be the best that they can be.
The Morrison-McCormack government's Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements is making a difference to businesses like Casey's with a 50 per cent wage subsidy for all new or recommencing apprentices and trainees. In October 2020, the Morrison-McCormack government announced that it would invest $1.2 billion to support 100,000 new apprentices or trainees through the subsidy. Amazingly, these 100,000 new apprenticeships have been taken up by businesses in less than five months. In Mallee alone there have been 627 apprentices registered. Due to the overwhelming success of the subsidy, the Morrison-McCormack government has lifted the cap on places under the program, extending the subsidy to a full 12-month period for new apprentices and trainees who begin before 30 September this year. The government and Australian businesses are backing opportunities for Australians, particularly for our young people, and I am fighting to see this support continued in the upcoming budget.
But it's not just apprentices and trainees that are desperately needed in Mallee; we also need a focus on higher education opportunities. This year, I've been working on two exciting proposals, with leaders of two universities with a footprint in Mallee. I have worked with Professor John Dewar, Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University, to develop a proposal to extend La Trobe's successful Rural Medical Pathway—currently based in Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton—to Mildura. John and I took this proposal to the ministers of health and regional health. The Rural Medical Pathway is a partnership between La Trobe and Melbourne University and was an initiative of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network. It aims to offer students medical training in regional areas in order to increase student retention, following the 'train local, stay local' mantra. La Trobe is seeking $6.25 million over four years in the 2021 budget, with a commitment of an additional 17 Commonwealth supported medical places from 2025 for postgraduate students. Included in this request is $2.2 million for a new laboratory at the Mildura campus for the new students.
Another proposal has been made by Geoffrey Lord, the head of Wimmera Campus of Federation University, based in Horsham. In conjunction with Wimmera Health Care Group, he aims to construct a new state-of-the-art training facility, to expand Federation University's Bachelor of Nursing offering in Horsham. Geoffrey predicts that this proposal would lead to an ongoing 120 student enrolments at the Horsham campus, which would aid the region to attract and retain a viable nursing workforce.
These proposals have the potential to revolutionise medical training in regions that are lacking qualified medical professionals. Beyond this, they will expand higher education offerings to students in Mildura, Horsham and surrounding communities, giving students more choice and flexibility. In this way, they will support the sustainability of higher education delivery in our regions. Increasing opportunities for training in medicine, allied health, science and engineering will help our regions flourish and go from strength to strength into the future.
On several occasions now, including in my very first speech in parliament, I've spoken of the need for greater access to quality health care in regional areas. My coalition government delivered $18.6 million for border oncology research in last year's budget to add the Mildura Base Public Hospital as a new site for the Regional Trials Network, Victoria, and I know that countless cancer patients and their families were thrilled to learn that a brand-new radiation oncology service will be established in Mildura at the private hospital. Our government committed $6.5 million to purchase state-of-the-art equipment for this vital project. It will mean that cancer patients in Mildura and surrounding areas won't have to travel long hours, far from their homes, in order to receive lifesaving radiation cancer treatment. To complement the new facility, the town needs to invest in accommodation for patients who still need to travel to Mildura. This is something I am fighting for now.
I've been working closely with the local health organisations to better understand the needs of our community and how we can address the maldistribution of our nation's health workforce. That's why I'm fighting for Medicare provider numbers for new graduates to be attached to areas of need, based on the Modified Monash Model. As I have said, local training is key to our long-term success, but more can and should be done to address these challenges. (Time expired)
I also rise today to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021. Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, I'm sure you'll appreciate this, but, being in the chair, as we are, often, I get the opportunity—and so do you—to hear many contributions from honourable members, and so it has been in the last couple of days. I have had the opportunity to hear government members speak to the appropriation bills, and—quite rightly, I guess; they are government members—they talk about this government's delivery to their electorates; they talk about the government listening and about lots and lots of visiting from ministers; they talk about shovel-ready projects, gearing to go. And I sit there wondering: 'That's all well and good, but what about my constituents, who are waiting for this government to deliver on urgently-needed projects and investments in our region and in my seat of Calwell?'
I want to begin—as always, when I am thinking about my electorate—by speaking about the decline of manufacturing in Calwell. When examining the advances or failings of the budget and the economy, you have to measure the rhetoric against the realities on the ground. The single most important thing is to look at whether the policies of the government are skewed away from benefiting the people in my electorate who I represent in this place, because, where there are budget or policy gaps, it is almost always the case under a coalition government that these failings impact the people in my electorate first and, quite often, the hardest.
These failings are visible and they're real. The former site of the Ford factory in Broadmeadows stands testimony to the fact that we're fast becoming a nation that no longer makes things. The reason is that this government has been, on this issue, missing in action and its record is filled with delays.
What more evidence do we need of the fact that local manufacturing is critical to our national and economic security than what was revealed to us during this very difficult year of the COVID pandemic? This global pandemic highlighted to us the precarious nature of the government's policies. The government has long outsourced our manufacturing capabilities to a world that all too readily closed its doors on the globalised nature of trade and access to vital goods as soon as the crisis hit, leaving us vulnerable and dependent. We've seen that in the case of the purchases of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Europe. But this isn't just about access to imports. It has long been about so much more, and, especially, the flow-on effects for the people in my electorate. It's about the contribution of manufacturing to Australia's GDP, its contribution to employment and the creation of new jobs around the total supply chain and the contribution of manufacturing to business expenditure on research and development.
In stark contrast to the government's attitude, we on this side of the House have a plan, and I'm very proud of this plan. It's a plan to secure jobs through a future made in Australia—a plan that speaks to the needs of the many in my electorate who find obstacle after obstacle thrown in their way, especially the younger people who are disadvantaged when trying to seek out, in this instance, their first-year apprenticeships or traineeships.
The residents of Calwell are not a peripheral community of Melbourne. We are, by any measure, Melbourne's gateway, with a strong logistics infrastructure that includes Melbourne Airport, Melbourne market and Hume Freeway, along with the portfolio of road, rail and infrastructure. We have one of the strongest food and beverage manufacturing sectors in Australia, including famous household names and brands, such as the former Schweppes site, which is now the Asahi factory. But it isn't just the traditional manufacturing base that is a part of our local economy. In my electorate, since the decline of heavy manufacturing such as Ford—which was a victim of this government's short-sightedness—businesses, small to medium sized in particular, have had to diversify to create new opportunities and jobs. With the commitment and investment made by the previous Labor government, we were able to achieve this. Melbourne's north continues to undergo its transition from a traditional manufacturing and heavy industry base to one centred on high-quality advanced manufacturing, on knowledge based industries and on services.
The demographic figures for the region are staggering. One in three Victorians and one in 12 Australians live in Melbourne's north and west. Together, the north and west of Melbourne have a population of approximately two million, with 980,000 persons being added by 2036, representing a 50 per cent growth in population over that time. This means the local population will be 50 per cent larger than the entire population of South Australia, and the proof of this is in the fact that, in the last two terms, two new federal seats have been created in Melbourne's north-west. That is why we need jobs—to match the increase in population and to meet the needs of the community. Not for a moment has my community stood still in the face of this growing reality, and I want to pay tribute to my local council, the Hume City Council, and serving mayor Councillor Joseph Haweil, because they are a key partner in the north and west Melbourne city deal.
In the closing days of the 45th Parliament—in fact, just before the 2019 federal election was called—NORTH Link, which is a network of businesses in my electorate, received a letter from then Minister Tudge informing them that our region was being offered a city deal. There was very little detail at the time from the minister, but a north and west Melbourne city deal proposal was developed and launched by the north-west alliance in August 2020. It produced a wish list of 66 major projects that run across the two regions.
For my local council, the Hume City Council, its list of priorities—envisaged to add to the economic growth and the creation of jobs in the electorate and in the region—includes the commercial development of Hume Central; the redevelopment of the Broadmeadows Railway Station; an advanced manufacturing centre for assistive technology; the outer metropolitan ring transport corridor, the E6; the Kangan Institute TAFE Broadmeadows campus redevelopment; improved interchanges between the Hume Freeway and major arterial roads; the redevelopment of the Maygar barracks; the Bulla Bypass; the Somerton Road duplication; the Mickleham Road duplication; the duplication of Sunbury Road between Melbourne Airport and Bulla; and the Beveridge Intermodal Freight Terminal.
These projects are waiting for the federal government to come to the table and progress the formal memorandum-of-understanding arrangements. Our local city councils—in particular, my local city council of Hume—are ready to go. Our state government is ready to go. So my question to the government in this chamber is when will you be ready to go? When will the government be ready to come to the party, come to the table and engage in the formal memorandum of understanding?
I'm very concerned, as we all are in my electorate, about the slow progress from the government in relation to these proposals, and there's still a great deal of uncertainty about future prospects. I have had these discussions with my local city council, and they are very worried about future prospects and viability. Will these projects ever eventuate?
So let me just say to the government: without a city deal, our region and my local community face a real crisis with the compounding set of problems brought about by the decline of industry and the effects of COVID on the economy, particularly the resulting decline in the community's employment numbers and falling gross regional product figures.
These are sound, concrete project proposals that would serve as transformative and enabling projects critical to our economy. We need real movement and action from this government, and we need it fast. This not only delivers to a region that has had the least infrastructure funding of all greater Melbourne regions, on a population growth basis—which is a shame in itself—but delivers for all Victoria. Funding these projects delivers for all Victoria and all Australia. These projects would not only address the significant and longstanding congestion and lack of growth but enable the shift to an innovation and knowledge economy that is best placed for advanced manufacturing, that strengthens an enviable connectivity and supply chain, and that harnesses active and vibrant job corridors. I call on the government to move with urgency on this. It must invest in our regions' infrastructure and show it is committed not only to my electorate but to the communities that live in the north-western areas of Melbourne.
As I've said, these proposals—if the government funds and delivers on them—will create the jobs of the future by bolstering transport connectivity and health and wellbeing, and they will add to a significant increase in the livability standards of our residents. However, what my community has seen in relation to this government is that it tends to leave things for another day when it comes to non-government-held electorates. The only things it doesn't leave for another day are cuts. For this government, the cuts never wait; they just keep coming. The premature end to JobKeeper is a particularly painful example of this for the people in my electorate. At a time when the rollout of the vaccine is progressing more slowly than expected, by the government's own standards and the timetable it has set itself, the government isn't even trying to formulate an economic response that would see JobKeeper applied in a so-called 'tailored and targeted' way. The government's approach is simply to ditch JobKeeper altogether.
In Victoria we went through a very difficult period. It was a long and hard lockdown. Not only were many people in my electorate the most affected; they will be the hardest hit when JobKeeper comes to an end this week. In my electorate of Calwell, 13,274 workers and 4,313 businesses will be impacted by cuts to JobKeeper, according to Treasury figures. I expect that when this happens at the end of this week, and once the cuts come into effect in the weeks that follow, we will see many businesses go under and people unable to make ends meet. With 60 Australians on JobSeeker for every entry-level job, Mr Deputy Speaker, how many do you think we will end up with if JobKeeper is removed early, as we're told will happen at the end of this week? It's no good getting someone through the pandemic only to abandon them as we edge closer to the pathway out of this crisis. There's a lot of angst and uncertainty in my community and the industries and businesses still struggling to stay afloat.
In the time I have left, I'd like to talk about CSL in Broadmeadows. CSL has an iconic presence in Broadmeadows. Australia's way out of the pandemic and towards reopening again is through the AstraZeneca vaccine program, and our local community is very proud that the AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured at CSL in Broadmeadows. I had the opportunity to visit CSL in Broadmeadows last year, in November, with the then shadow minister for health, the member for McMahon. I've been through CSL on many occasions, but this was a very special visit. We were taken through and shown where the AstraZeneca vaccine would be manufactured. I spoke to CSL about their process. I even asked them whether building such an enormous manufacturing capacity would be impacted by any work shortages, and they were very confident that they would be able to pool their resources with CSIRO and other areas across their business to ensure that there would be no possibility of work shortages impacting on their capacity to deliver the 50 million-odd vaccines. Simultaneously, CSL will also be producing the flu vaccine.
We have in this company a wonderful example of Australian medical and scientific excellence, and we're proud that it's in our electorate. I am aware that some of our clinics are already online and advertising for people to log on to be vaccinated. I just want to say to all my constituents: we've done it tough—the pandemic has been a problem for us especially—but it is absolutely critical that everybody takes the opportunity to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. We need to ensure that as much of our population as possible—and certainly my electorate—is vaccinated. It's a vaccine that we should be proud of. It will be an Australian-manufactured vaccine. I encourage everyone in the federal seat of Calwell to log on, make a booking and, when their time comes, have the AstraZeneca vaccine.
I'm very pleased to rise to make a contribution on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and to acknowledge the fine efforts of previous speakers here today. In doing so, I am very conscious of the fact that this is the last sitting week before the federal budget comes down, so I would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the needs of my electorate of Newcastle and to remind the government of some of the really critical projects—particularly infrastructure projects but not exclusively infrastructure projects—that are in need of funding from the Commonwealth coffers. This is a time in which many people across the nation have been hurting, in the wake of a global pandemic. People have faced job losses. There is a need to reactivate our regional economies. I'd like to direct the government's attention now to some of those key projects that would help enormously to provide some impetus, to help drive regional economies so that we can ensure that people retain their jobs and also create new ones.
There are some pretty tried and tested ways that you can drive local and national economic activity and spur economic life back into our communities, and one of those is around new infrastructure builds. I noted with regret in this House last year that the government had failed in their budget to support some of the really key infrastructure projects that my community of Newcastle has been asking for for some time. In Newcastle we are looking to put forward projects that will diversify and strengthen our entire regional economy for decades to come, not just for now but to set us up for the future as well. Regretfully, the Morrison government really turned their noses up at the University of Newcastle's proposal for a STEMM Regional Transformation Hub, which had significant job creation potential and the capacity to position our region as a leader in the critically important technology based industries of tomorrow.
But the last budget also failed to support the Port of Newcastle's $1.8 billion deepwater terminal, despite the fact that this project would create 15,000 direct and indirect jobs and transform the entire regional economy. It sounds like a big ticket item—$1.8 billion—but they were not seeking government money. They were seeking the support of this government to help unblock the obstacles being put in place by the New South Wales Liberal government, which has consistently put a foot on Newcastle's neck in terms of being able to diversify our port of Newcastle, leaving us in a vulnerable situation. We should be the centre of an important freight hub in the region. Botany is choked. I can assure you that there'd be a lot of National Party people up north who would appreciate being able to freight their produce and grain out of the port of Newcastle rather than having to take it all the way down to Botany, where they face massive congestion. But I'll come back to that in a moment. The other project that was sadly overlooked—and, again, is critical if you're trying to put together an important freight hub for the northern region, the north of Sydney—is the shovel-ready project to extend Newcastle's airport to code E standard.
What did we get in the budget? We didn't get any of the things we were actually asking for or any of the priorities from the different local governments, the Committee for the Hunter and the business community. Everyone had a very united voice about the projects that I've just spoken about. But what did we get out of the budget? We got a commitment to splash $360 million to fund the Newcastle inner-city bypass, a project, I want noted, that the state government had already promised to fund! What in fact has happened is that the Commonwealth has just gone and let their state mates off the hook from funding it. Don't get me wrong: this is an important project. It's a much-wanted project, and we will rejoice seeing the project delivered earlier, if this means a pipeline of funds coming through. But letting your state Liberal mates off the hook from funding it isn't a win for my region; it's just allowing one level of government to cost-shift to another. Frankly, you're letting off the New South Wales Liberal government from honouring their commitment and their promise to Newcastle whilst they collect all the royalties from our region. Some $2 billion in royalties went to the New South Wales government in 2018-19. It's been estimated that $1.8 billion in royalties out of the resources sector is going to go to the New South Wales government, but not a cracker is coming back into the electorate. Mine is one of many electorates in which that wealth has been generated, so it is time that the state government recognised the enormous economic output from Newcastle and the Hunter region and started channelling some of those very precious royalty dollars back into funding key projects. Accordingly, the federal government should not be letting the state off the hook when they make a commitment to fund a project. I do hope, if federal dollars are going to fund the Newcastle inner-city bypass, that it comes with a caveat. The Morrison government should tell the Berejiklian government in New South Wales that they need to ensure that, if they've been let off the hook from paying $360 million, they will spend that amount of money on other key projects in our area this is.
Let me take you through some of those projects. As I said, there was a proposal for a STEMM hub at the University of Newcastle. It's a terrific project. We all know how important it is for the next generation of Australians to be coming through training in STEMM, particularly women—and girls. We know we need to encourage and support them to take on STEMM subjects at school and then engage in STEMM disciplines in their tertiary education so that they can go into the workforce with the skills and expertise required. I'd like to quote the vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Professor Zelinsky, who said:
"STEMM skills will power global economies long into the future and are the lifeblood of emerging knowledge-based industries such as … advanced manufacturing…
"These skills also underpin the competitive advantage we need for our established industries like agriculture, healthcare and resources…
"This investment … will reinforce our place on the research and education world stage …"
That's the kind of commitment I want to see. I want to see the Commonwealth government backing in regional universities, like the University of Newcastle, who are punching way above their weight and are leading the field in so many areas. I want to see them properly supported. I want to see the Commonwealth put some money towards critical projects like an industry-led STEMM hub that has been proposed for the Newcastle university. I want to see this government back in the Port of Newcastle to enable us to build a container shipping terminal in the seat of Newcastle. That is how freight is transported around the world.
The fact that the New South Wales Liberal government did a dodgy deal when it sold off the three ports of New South Wales and effectively prohibited Newcastle from being able to have a container terminal is unconscionable. This is a matter before the courts and the ACCC. Seriously, it really warrants the New South Wales government cutting through the obstacles that it has put up at every opportunity to disable the port of Newcastle from growth. It needs to put aside those weapons now. It needs to drop those ridiculous cases and back in a group that has so many infrastructure projects in the pipeline and ready to go, if only they were allowed to develop the port of Newcastle. I will quote the CEO, Craig Carmody, who says:
... the Port is ready to go.
He also says:
The Newcastle Multi-Purpose Deepwater Terminal ... will deliver more jobs in regional NSW, a reduction in ... road and rail movements in and out of Sydney, and cheaper freight costs for importers and exporters across the state.
… … …
We have cost effective landside connectivity, interested shippers and a deep channel port that is operating at less than half its capacity. With freight growth in NSW expected to double by 2040, a fully utilised Port of Newcastle with a world-class container terminal will provide efficiencies and competition to meet the future logistics and freight task.
The federal government need to find a way to work with their state counterparts to remove the cap on containers so that this shovel-ready project can go ahead.
As I said at the beginning, the Port of Newcastle are not asking the Commonwealth for money. In fact, they are the body in town that has money and is ready to create jobs and diversify our economic base in the Port of Newcastle. The only thing that's in the way is the New South Wales Liberal government and the ridiculous obstacles they have put in place—the anticompetitive, unfair obstacles they have put in place. They need to go. The Prime Minister recently visited the region and said he's backing in the Port of Newcastle. He needs to tell the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, that, because the state government are the ones in the way. Any support that the Prime Minister could lend would be gratefully received.
I want to move on to the other project, Newcastle Airport. There is a critical need now to ensure that the runway at Newcastle Airport is upgraded. The project has a value of $119 million. Sixty-five million dollars is required for a Code E runway upgrade and $54 million is required for the airport terminal expansion. The Commonwealth will fund the upgrades for the Defence Force. It is an airport that is utilised as a civilian airport but is also a strategically important Defence airport. Defence must undergo repairs and works on the runway, so we have a time-critical period. It's essential that the runway is widened to enable international flights to go in and out. It would be senseless not to undertake this work, at the same time as Defence is doing work on the runway anyway. So there is a very small window of opportunity for the Commonwealth to come in and support the building of critical runway infrastructure that will enable development and growth at Newcastle Airport. We cannot miss out on this opportunity. It's a project that has to be funded now. I want to see it in the budget, if not before.
Finally, I want to point to the issues that have been not just before this House but before the nation, and that is matters around women's place in our society, the ongoing inequities that exist and that are fuelling the levels of gendered violence in Australia, and the matters before us that we see how this also impacts workplace culture. This House is very much the focus of that discussion in the nation right now. I want to see a government with a plan of action to not just stop gendered violence in Australia but address what has been a growing inequity between men and women in Australia for some time. I want to see a plan of action. I want to see some recognition around these matters. I want it understood that gender inequality is one of the primary drivers of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. If you're serious about stopping violence, you're going to address gender inequality. I want to see this Prime Minister have the courage to introduce a gender equality act for the whole of Australia. That's my gift to you, Prime Minister. That's my suggestion. Please take it up. The women of Australia will be forever thankful.
My community, like many others, is bracing for the impact of the business-saving JobKeeper wage subsidy ending this Saturday. Despite my advocacy and that of many in this place, the government has made it clear that the pandemic assistance measure will end. The government is buoyed by recent economic indicators, but the devil is always in the detail. In South Australia our unemployment rate is unacceptably high. Meanwhile, the funding subsidy for the COVID unemployed, the COVID assistance measure, is also coming to an end. The COVID supplement of $150 a fortnight will be gone next Wednesday. In its place, a new rise—I appreciate it's a permanent rise—of $50 a fortnight. But that takes the base rate of JobKeeper to around $310 a week. Retail data shows that it was the low-income households who supported our economy with extra spending during the restrictions. Ending both measures at the same time, I believe, is a very high risk decision. The removal of the supplement will put the brakes on our economy by cutting the income of those who are most likely to spend. This is going to have a huge impact on our small businesses.
Looking at the statistics in my electorate, 7,962 people received JobSeeker in Mayo last December and 780 received youth allowance. Exactly a year ago there were 4,572 people on JobSeeker and 474 on youth allowance. That represents around a 75 per cent increase for JobSeeker recipients and a 65 per cent increase in the number of people on youth allowance. Not all of these people would have secured work in the first months of this year. Next week many of those employees who are still on JobKeeper will need to transition to JobSeeker, but that is only if they're eligible. The eligibility criteria have again been restricted.
I'm concerned that the government's insistence on forcing the end of JobKeeper at the same time that it removes the coronavirus supplement will see a real contraction of our economy. I think we're in for a very difficult landing. When that happens, we have to ask ourselves, what was the point of the last year if we allow the wage subsidy to end prematurely and the businesses we are trying to save fall at the very last hurdle? What was the point of it all?
The announcement of the aviation relief package and ticket incentives for the tourism industry is welcome, but our visitor economy is much larger than airlines. In our community, these measures won't help the travel agents, the small tour operators and the boutique businesses that relied on international and interstate visitors. It's estimated that the end of JobKeeper will have an impact on the future of some 400,000 jobs in travel, tourism and events. Some tourism businesses across Australia have seen an uplift in revenue from domestic visitors; however, many regional and remote tourism businesses that depend on international markets are in a very precarious situation. I spoke to one chauffeur operator in my electorate who, when COVID hit, lost most of their business taking small group tours to the wineries. They have attempted to diversify, but that hasn't covered their costs, including their loans on high-end vehicles.
There is also a business that used to organise festivals and entertainment events. It will struggle to continue with restrictions still in place, as will the art galleries and hospitality venues that are still in recovery mode. It has been widely reported that Australians working in the arts industry have lost more than $25 million in income because of bushfires and the pandemic. Cinemas are also affected. We have the wonderful Wallis Cinema chain in South Australia, including in my electorate of Mayo, at Mount Barker. The combination of last year's lockdowns and delays in studios releasing A-list movies has significantly affected audience numbers—and this is an industry that was already hurting thanks to streaming services. More than 99 per cent of the businesses in my electorate are small businesses. Construction makes up the highest proportion, but there are more than a thousand businesses involved in the tourism, arts and recreation sectors. I'm very concerned that these specialist businesses will shed staff and possibility close down forever. If they lay off staff, they lose those people's expertise and their established relationships with them. The government has made its position clear, but the government, I believe, has shown it can react quickly if situations change. If the economic situation rapidly deteriorates, the government needs to act so it doesn't undo all the good work of JobKeeper and the $70 billion that Australian taxpayers have spent on that program.
JobKeeper showed that the government can respond quickly in crisis. Sadly, there is no denying the aged-care crisis we are in right now in Australia. I'm heartened by the final report of the royal commission into aged care because it sets out pathways to a system which will treat older people with care, dignity and respect, and I think that's really the key to it all. If we have the will, we can act decisively and we can act now. The commissioners have called for a new aged-care act and system, and I think that's a matter we can all agree on, but the Prime Minister has indicated a five-year time frame for a new act. The government must act now on key recommendations, because older Australians can't wait any longer. We don't need a new act to act on some of the key recommendations. Lengthy delays in providing aged care at home must be addressed immediately. Many elderly people qualify for care in their homes but are left on a merry-go-round for months or years, searching for providers—and that's after being on the waiting list. Their health can deteriorate to a point where they are hospitalised or need residential care prematurely. It is not what they want, it's not what their families want and it costs individuals and taxpayers far more than in-home care. The system is broken and it can't wait five years to be fixed.
The commissioners have called for immediate improvements to food and nutrition. They heard evidence that 68 per cent of residents in 60 Melbourne nursing homes were either suffering from or at risk of malnutrition. Nearly seven out of 10 residents were at risk of or suffering from malnutrition. That is horrific. I just can't believe that that is the Australia we live in. We need to make sure that the government's initial per-resident funding boost for providers really delivers to the individuals who are in aged care. We need to make sure it delivers nutritious meals.
The second recommendation for immediate action relates to people living with dementia. Recently members would have heard from Dementia Australia that the aged-care system lacks consistent quality support for people with dementia. Dementia is now the biggest killer of women in Australia. More timely dementia diagnosis; pathways designed for people living with dementia, their families and carers; and a supported, skilled workforce cannot wait five years for a new act.
Thirdly, the commissioners called for immediate better controls on restrictive practices. I am pleased the government has initiated some of these measures.
Lastly, the commissioners called for palliative care to be core business. Advocates advise of the improved patient outcomes and economic benefits of integrating palliative care with aged care. We need to be providing more compassionate care for people nearing end of life—at home if they wish—rather than emergency hospitalisations.
The commissioners' core recommendations give shape to the top 10 things that peak bodies have identified through consultation and that most older Australians want. The commissioners agree there needs to be increased funding for aged care, with greater transparency and accountability of how individuals' and taxpayers' funds are spent. Older Australians say they want to see transparency, informed choice and greater control over their funds. I call on the government to immediately progress measures based on previous Centre Alliance legislation proposals. Aged-care providers must be required to disclose their income and what they spend on food and medication, staff and training, accommodation, administration and payments to parent organisations and directors. Australians can't believe that this information is not required to be provided to the Australian taxpayer, to the government. It's all under cover. It's all under a shroud of secrecy. Nobody knows how much an aged-care facility spends on food. Nobody knows how much they spend on staff. Nobody knows how many staff are in a residential facility. It differs wildly. There are no ratios. There is no transparency of ratios. It's really quite appalling.
The commission recommends improved access to quality care for older Australians. Really, that's just quite simple. Minimum time guarantees with personal care workers and nurses are one way to ensure everyone receives the care they need. You know what else needs to happen? We actually need to pay care workers properly. I have met wonderful care workers in recent weeks here in parliament who are earning $22 or $23 an hour. They can get more stacking shelves and yet they are looking after our most vulnerable people and they are racing from room to room with just minutes to shower and dress a person. In many cases, if the person has dementia, if the person has incontinence issues, they are needing to shower them many times during a day. They are stressed, they are exhausted and they are an older workforce of mainly women, and we treat them as poorly as we treat the residents in aged care.
Older Australians call for recognition and support for family and friends who act as carers and volunteers. This is also recommended by the commissioners. All agree aged care must be more inclusive, culturally safe and sensitive. The government has allocated $452 million to its initial response. Of course that is really welcome, but I think the Australian community needs to know that that's just around three per cent of the total annual budget for aged care. This must be just the beginning of some funding changes. This initial investment must be followed by decisive action now. Significant investment must be made in the May budget and sound commitment must be made over the long term.
The royal commission sets out the reasons and the road map for an aged-care system which acknowledges our older community and the right of all Australians to have care, dignity and respect as we age. I urge the Australian government to seize this opportunity to make meaningful change for the better, commencing immediately. We can't wait five years for a new Aged Care Act. No Australian deserves to wait five years for a new Aged Care Act. While we've been deliberating and discussing appropriations in here for days, it's just another wasted opportunity. I would happily sit through winter break—summer break, every break—so that we can actually make some meaningful change in this place to aged care, because our older Australians deserve much better.
The past week we have rightly had a spotlight on the issue of treatment of women in this place and in society more broadly. The Prime Minister yesterday said that he wanted to listen to the women of Australia and that he wanted women to have every opportunity that men have in our country—to do what they want to do, to succeed and to live the lives they want in every way. While we've heard a lot of words from the Prime Minister, I'm going to ask this very simple question: where are the actions necessary to make those goals a reality?
There are no shortage of ideas to help end systemic gendered bias, discrimination and harassment, and, worse, sexual assault and violence within our society. There is of course not one thing, program or fund that will fix everything, but there are countless ideas—policies, programs and potential funding commitments—that do exist, that are ready to go and that would be tangible action that this government could commit to right now that would make a real difference to women's lives across the country. This is not just talk; it's action.
Prime Minister, here are just a few ideas. Launch an independent inquiry into allegations against the Attorney-General. Introduce quotas for women in the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister says he's open to it—just do it! We did it, in the Australian Labor Party, and we have almost 50 per cent women MPs. Accept and implement the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work sexual harassment national inquiry report of 2020, which has been gathering dust on the Attorney-General's desk for almost a year. Launch a national education program to teach our young people about consent. Properly fund domestic violence prevention campaigns. Properly fund domestic violence support programs for survivors. Invest in women's sport at the same rate as men's sport. Invest in programs to get more women and girls into sectors that are more highly paid and—surprise, surprise—tend to be male dominated: science, technology, medicine and the trades. Raise the pay and standards for sectors that are often dominated by women: teaching, nursing, aged care and hospitality. Close the gender pay gap once and for all.
If the Prime Minister doesn't know how to approach this one, take some ideas from Labor policy. We will give him bipartisan support. We will support him if he puts these ideas into action. Legislate so that large companies have to disclose their gender pay gap publicly. Prohibit pay secrecy clauses, giving employees the right to disclose pay. Take action to address the pay gap in the Australian Public Service. Strengthen the ability of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in low-paid female-dominated industries. These are just a few ideas for the Prime Minister.
If the Prime Minister was really listening—and if he has been listening, as he says he is—to women, then this is what he would have heard from women sharing their stories. Last week, I listened. I listened to women at the March 4 Justice in front of Parliament House. I thought it was important, as a man, to be there, to listen, to acknowledge and to better understand the injustices that women face every day in our society and in workplaces around Australia. I listened to ANU student association president, Madhumitha Janagaraja. She said: 'Disabled and First Nations women are proportionately much more likely to be survivors. This is not because they are inherently more vulnerable. It is because they are much more likely to be targeted because they are the groups with the least access to resources and often the ones with the least community support.' She ended with a powerful quote by Audre Lorde:
When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.
I heard women say that they have advocated for gender equality and for an end to gendered violence and abuse for decades. They have been working on this for decades. These are women who've been campaigning and fighting for this cause for decades, and they were all there, out in front of Parliament House and around Australia, in protests in all of our cities and in our towns. They've said very clearly that, in another decade's time, they don't want their daughters and their granddaughters to have to come out and march for the very same thing.
I've also listened to my colleagues who spoke out in parliament. The member for Cowan, my good friend Anne Aly, said:
I have somebody who regularly writes to me addressing his letters to the 'ISIS whore', sending me vile racist material directed at Labor female MPs. Enough is enough.
The member for Cooper, my next-door neighbour in electorate terms, Ged Kearney, spoke about her experience running for parliament in 2018. She said:
Placards with my face, in fact, corflutes of mine that were stolen for the very purpose, were defaced and painted over. Markings were drawn across my face making me look like a pig and a witch.
I also listen to my own staff. I'm going to name them: Laura, Anna, Lucy, Lauren and Katerine. They told me: 'It doesn't matter where it happens. It doesn't matter which party. Gendered harassment, assault, violence, bullying, coercion, discrimination is wrong, no matter what. It doesn't matter who it is or where it's coming from. If there are people found to be mistreating women in this way in our political party, in any party in this place, they have to go. There should be zero tolerance for this behaviour. We need to change this place and every workplace where gender discrimination exists.'
Everyone has been engaged in this subject in a way where we're reflecting, we're thinking and we're talking about it. Everyone's been saying that there's a toxic culture in Canberra and that the bad behaviour can be attributed to the culture of this place. What people rarely ask is: what actually is the culture of this place, what do they mean by that, and why is it so bad? It's a strange place, because 5,000-or-so people descend on this building for a couple of weeks. There are late working hours, long hours. There's a mix of power—clearly political power but also power imbalances—alcohol and a lack of accountability. In the very place where the laws of the land are made, are passed, there is an absence of legal mechanisms and HR structures to deal with harassment, bullying and assault. There's your recipe for a bad culture. When people in this place do the wrong thing, who deals with the problem? It's actually us, the MPs and senators. There are actually 227 offices, effectively little fiefdoms, here that deal with transgressions, assaults, harassment and bullying.
I and some of my colleagues have worked in the public service and in the private sector. I was surprised at the lack of an independent body to look at these HR issues and to have those legal mechanisms in place. I was surprised by it, because in my working experience and in my working life, whether it was at the Department of Defence, DFAT or SBS, there was an independent, arm's length body and mechanisms that dealt with these issues in that workplace. But here it's an absolute monarchy in every office. There's no independent arbiter. There's no arm's length process. There's no real HR department as such. Frankly, this structural deficit is an enabler of bad behaviour and bad culture as well. We've got to ask ourselves the questions: why are we different to other workplaces, why are we so special, why should we be so special, why should the rules be different for us, the rule makers? This is the place where laws are made, on this hill, in this chamber, this pinnacle of law making in our democracy. Yet there is an absence of adequate workplace laws in the very place we make those laws.
Changing culture is more than just talking about it. It's more than just words. We have to match that rhetoric with action, substantive action. As law makers, we need to change the structures and set the standards that people can abide by. We should have high standards. Our standards should be higher than any other workplace in Australia. We should at least match the basic minimum standards of other workplaces. We're not even doing that. It is because we don't have those standards and those structures that the bad behaviour and the bad culture that we have been reflecting on has permeated our workplace. It's become accepted. It's become the norm. I think it's probably true to say that every woman in this building deserves better than that, whether they be an MP, a staff member, one of the cleaners or one of the hospitality staff. They deserve better than a world where there's an absolute monarchy, where might is right, where power dominates and where there is no accountability of that power. That is basically what this place is like, in that context of workplace structures—or lack of them.
This goes beyond partisan issues; I think I share with all of us here in the chamber the view that this should go beyond partisanship and go beyond politics. The government needs to take this seriously. What I mean by that is that this is not a political attack. I mean it's got to go beyond words. It's important to listen. It's important to acknowledge and understand, but you have got to go beyond that and actually take substantive actions.
So, unlike the previous report that I alluded to, the Kate Jenkins report that will come out of her inquiry should not be left on the shelf to gather dust, like the other reports. The sex discrimination report has been shelved by the Attorney-General, since, effectively, over a year ago. The Prime Minister cannot let that happen. This is a moment in time when he needs to lead—in the true sense of the word—and take those actions. He made a start yesterday by acknowledging—listening and acknowledging; he talked about that—but there was no substance; there were no actions that came out of that.
It's not just about us here—the MPs, the staff and the Parliament House workers in this place. As important as this place is, it does set a standard. I'm not diminishing the importance of doing what we need to do here. But it's really about every woman and every workplace in Australia, and what we think needs to be the standard across our society. So our job here won't really be done until every woman is safe in every workplace, in every home, in every school; is equal in every place; and has the same opportunities as a man in everything that she wants to do. Our job won't be done until we can actually say that: that we've set that standard and we can say we are progressing towards that goal. I think it is achievable, if we work together.
The last few years have been tough for parts of regional Australia: the prolonged drought, the worst bushfires in history, the worst floods in memory, the tourism industry smashed and border communities cut in two during COVID-19.
But, even before this, regional Australia got a pretty raw deal from federal government. The metrics tell us so. Regional Australians have lower life expectancy, lower incomes, poorer health outcomes, poorer education outcomes and less access to child care, aged care and job opportunities than our city cousins. The brutal truth is that none of this has changed in years. The National and Liberal Parties represent most places in regional Australia, and they have been in power for most of the last 30 years, yet still nothing has fundamentally changed.
Why not? I want to give you a sense of some of the guff that's going on, guff that regional Australians are mighty sick of. In parliament we have this thing called the regional Australia committee. When I came to this place I couldn't wait to join it. I really thought, 'This is the committee that I need to be on to do something tangible for regional Australia.' The point of the committee is to hear from witnesses about what they think the regions need; to make official visits all across the country to factories, farms, workplaces, hospitals and all sorts of places; and, ultimately, to make policy recommendations to the government.
In the previous parliament, the regional Australia committee held public hearings in every state and territory and received a total of 196 good faith submissions. It produced a report that made 13 recommendations to government, including establishing a white paper for regional Australia. I expected when I came here that I'd roll up my sleeves and get right into the results of that white paper. A white paper is supposed to set out a broad policy framework for an issue that is bipartisan and can guide the actions of governments for many, many years. Without an overarching strategy like a white paper, we have no real direction. What industries does the government see as underpinning the economy of regional Australia in the future? How do we build the population of our regional towns and cities and make the right investments in housing, health, education and transport, so these communities are not overwhelmed? These are the types of questions that a white paper would give answers to. But the government took no action. Instead, a new committee was set up to review the recommendations of the previous committee. Then, when the second committee finished its report in March 2019, the government refused to release it, because they didn't want to implement any of those recommendations.
When I was elected to parliament, just two months after that report was finished, I asked the government, in good faith: 'Can I see it?' Not only did they refuse but they actively covered up the report. I had to resort to forcing the government to release it through a Senate order in July 2020, almost 18 months after it was first written. As I suspected, none of the recommendations had been actioned. The big one—to develop a white paper for regional Australia—had been completely disregarded. But the worst part is that the regional Australia committee of this House is now conducting a new, third, pretty much identical inquiry into regional Australia.
So let's be clear about this. The last parliament did a review into regional Australia; that report was ignored. The government then called for a review of that review, and that review was ignored. Now they're conducting a third review. And what do we expect they'll do with that one? That'll be three reviews into the exact same thing over five years, with none of the recommendations actually implemented. It's exasperating!
And if you think I'm frustrated, how do you think regional Australians are feeling? It's a massive slap in the face to every single person in regional Australia who took the time to write to those inquiries or to front up—often nervously, but filled with hope—to speak to a committee hearing. Do you know what I hear from people when I travel around my electorate of Indi? They think that politicians just care about grandstanding and talkfests and never-ending politics just for the sake of it. Well, it's little wonder. And I hate to say that, after spending almost two years in this place, more and more it feels like they're right. And I hate that. This isn't true about all politicians, to be sure. But I really have to ask the question: really, how much do we truly care about regional Australia and how much do our regional MPs really care enough to stand up to the government, to not be silent and to actually call for recommendations to be put in place when they are made?
People tell me they don't believe that government really understands what life is like in the regions and that decisions are made by people who neither know us nor care about us. And seeing legislation and policy get made up close, I'm fearful that at times they're really right about that.
An example of this is the prolonged border closure that was inflicted on our communities by the New South Wales government. It's a most painful and recent example. The New South Wales Premier shut the border, with very little notice, and promised there would be a permit system, but, when we woke up to a closed border, the permit system was a complete shambles. People's lives were totally torn apart. Then, over the next few months, as the New South Wales government slowly added postcodes to the list of border communities, it was extremely clear that decisions were being made in Sydney about how our local communities worked without asking us. Frustration and despair—despair—still permeate as a result of those decisions, and businesses are still suffering from border closures.
When the government announced the bushfire recovery fund, it said that small businesses in the Towong and Alpine shires were eligible for those $10,000 bushfire recovery grants, but not small businesses in other severely impacted bushfire communities like Indigo, Wangaratta or Mansfield who'd had a huge impact from these fires. Again, what stings about this is not just that they got it wrong but that they didn't ask the people who lived there and were impacted by the fires. It took months of work with local mayors to unpack that and finally get it right. And I'm really pleased that we finally did get it right.
Then we saw the government call a royal commission into the bushfires, talking big about how we could never again let the disaster of last summer happen. But then, when the commission actually delivered its report, the government offered what really looked like a mealy-mouthed response, about 'noting' recommendations for an aerial firefighting fleet or supporting 'in principle' the recommendation for a single national bushfire warning app, or supporting in principle 'the objective of' the recommendation for a national register of firefighting equipment. Do you know what all that bureaucratic-speak actually means? Well, I do, and I reckon a lot of regional Australians do too. 'Noting' recommendations or supporting them 'in principle'—well, that actually means no. It means no sovereign aerial firefighting fleet. It means they're not developing a single national bushfire warning app. It means they're not creating a national register of firefighting equipment. It means that, after 240 inquiries into natural disasters, this is just another way to happily disregard recommendations when those recommendations get hard. The government don't even have the courage to look bushfire survivors in the eye and tell them straight up, 'That's a no.'
We see the Deputy Prime Minister flying into Wangaratta last Friday literally so he could announce that the long-awaited $235 million upgrade to the North East Rail line is complete. Well, hurray! Except it's actually not complete and it won't be complete for another few months. And, even once the infrastructure works are complete, the new trains, which are really the things that are going to make a difference to the reliability and the quality of the service, won't be operational for months after that. We have to get the signalling right. We have to get the testing right. This is not complete yet. And there's still no guarantee from the Deputy Prime Minister that the maintenance of this line will be taken care of—no guarantee at all. We could be standing on that same train line again in a few years time, with the same old problems, because the Deputy Prime Minister will not give a guarantee that it will be maintained at the level that we need.
In Wangaratta, the DPM told us his cute story once more that you could live like a king or queen in regional Australia, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a three-car garage and a huge backyard. It sounds incredible—except Wangaratta is a town where house prices have gone up 13 per cent, or $40,000, in a single year. With the influx of cashed-up people from the cities, there is not much room for locals left trying to buy or rent a home. This means locals are desperately looking for rentals. It means there's a real problem for our workforce, who cannot find anywhere to rent and live. Okay, sure, it's a two-way street. This will be good news for anyone who already owns a house. But, for young families or single young people looking for a place of their own, this just means they're pushed out of the market. If you'd been saving, say, $30,000 for a 10 per cent deposit, then the price of your house has just gone up by that amount. To see the Deputy Prime Minister celebrating this just showed he was completely out of touch, and plenty of people told me so. Where is the housing strategy for rural and regional Australia?
We saw the Minister for Health swooping into Wodonga in the immediate wake of the fires, promising $500,000 to fund two mental health nurses in the Upper Murray region. And yet, over a year later, that promise has turned out to be completely empty. No money has ever come through. I've followed up and followed up, as has the CEO of Corryong Health, and we're still waiting. In a region where it's basically impossible to get mental health support, where it is chronically underfunded, to come in chasing the spotlight with an announcement and then exit stage right when it comes to delivering is completely inexcusable.
We see a government that, when our community was torn in two by the border closure, didn't even pretend to care. In fact, they played politics about the Victorian government. Because the New South Wales state government are a Liberal government and it was them who closed the border, the federal government didn't say or do a thing. Instead, they bashed Victoria. I wrote to the Prime Minister. I begged him to do something at national cabinet about border closures, but there was silence—silence about the lived reality of border communities.
Those communities are still hurting. They have not forgotten. It's caused anxiety and huge trauma, and crippled local businesses. Our young people are hurting. Okay, so the government funded some help, the HeadtoHelp service in Wodonga, as a COVID measure, and I was pleased about that. But again it's a reaction and it's a drop in the bucket. That service and all the mental health services in Wodonga are totally oversubscribed. I cannot begin to say how concerning this is, how worrying this is, what a blight this is on our society, that we cannot give people the mental health support that they so desperately need. There is an extreme lack of support for people with eating disorders. If you're on the border and you have an eating disorder, then you need to go to Melbourne. There is literally zero subacute mental health care for young people anywhere in our region. So where are the federal government? Where is the plan for this for regional Australia? Where's the rural health strategy that our overworked doctors and nurses and allied health professionals have been calling for? Where is it?
We're not asking for much. We just want to have a fair go. We want a level playing field, because too often the regions miss out on the absolute basics, and it's putting our families and our communities under stress. Just today, I met a woman who told me that she left her rural community for good. Because she had breast cancer and needed treatment and she could not get the treatment she needed in her rural community, she has moved to the city, and she said she won't be coming back. What a loss. But she did that to save her own life.
We don't want a government that does everything for us. But we do want a government that takes the reins when they need to. When the going gets tough you need to turn up. In my submission to the federal budget coming up in May, I recommended dozens of clear and practical actions that the government could quickly take to do better by our region, positive actions that drive prosperity. I have talked in this place before about the Australian Local Power Agency and the opportunity for the regions to truly benefit from renewable energy. I have talked in this place before about the tourism opportunities, opportunities like the Winton raceway and its proposed museum and heritage centre for the Holden Museum—a name that survives in the state where it all began. We could do this. But a little museum in a country town is not that groovy. It gets ignored. It's these kinds of things that make a difference to a local community.
We could fund, right now, if the government had the will to do it, community based mental health services in towns like Myrtleford, King Lake, Alexandra, Wodonga. A program like Be Well in the Ranges, which wound up in December due to a lack of funding, should absolutely have been funded. In the grand scheme of the budget it would cost tuppence. The government could immediately provide home-care packages for everyone accessing one, and it could do something about the workforce that I know we need to make those home-care packages a reality. It could do more for young people to get them in the workplace. Right now the government's flagship JobMaker scheme has got just 500 people into jobs across Australia. How about we put some of that $4 billion into our local regional workforces, train mental health professionals, train aged-care workers, train more tradies and really give a boost to regional Australia? How about funding the Wodonga TAFE youth foyer, which could provide homes for young people who right now are choosing not to go into tertiary education because their families have been smashed by the disasters of the past 12 months and they can't afford to leave home? We need to do something about it. I came here as a regional Australian to do something about it. I call on the government to work with me and other regional MPs. Stand up, be heard, and let's do something for regional Australia.
This government only cares about this government. They don't care about the Australian people. They are obsessed with themselves. They are obsessed with covering the backs of each other. They are obsessed with talking about each other. They are obsessed with covering up and dealing with the political scandals that riddle this government each and every day.
But I tell you what this government is not doing. They are not dealing with the serious issues that confront Australians each and every day. Issues like aged care, child care, stagnant wages, the gender pay gap. Issues like the fact that our vaccine rollout is rolling at a snail's pace, when we needed to be acting urgently to have it rolled out across this country. We have an emerging crisis in the Pacific. We have emissions going up under this government. We have a housing crisis in this government, not just in social housing, but also in young Australians being able to get into the housing market. JobKeeper is ending. We have hundreds of thousands of jobs that are on the line. Mental health: we are not funding our mental health system at anywhere near the level we need to.
And what is this government doing? Instead of talking about the issues that affect Australians, instead of offering a vision for this country, instead of offering some sort of hope to Australians, they are stuck in the political cover-ups, in the defence of their mates, in the jobs-for-the-boys scheme, and in dealing with the political crises that rock it each and every day. It is not just this latest political crisis that this government is dealing with. They have form. There are dozens of crises that this government has taken the same approach with: 'We have got to get through the media cycle; we've got to manage this politically.' But they don't actually deal with the crux of the problem.
We're talking about an appropriation bill. I might talk about some of the ways in which this government deals with taxpayer money. Why don't I start with the $100 million sports rorts scandal. Hardworking Australian volunteers, mums and dads on the weekend, literally give up their time to make our local sporting clubs work, and, instead of treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve, what did this government do? They spent $100 million trying to win Liberal Party seats. They spent $100 million, as a Liberal Party slush fund, instead of recognising the applications that Australian mums and dads put in. They spent $30 million on an airport that was worth $3 million. The land was worth $3 million and they spent $30 million. What did the Deputy Prime Minister say? He said it was a bargain. Those $30 million Australian taxpayer dollars were flippantly used and flippantly covered up by this government. Of course, there was the Jam Land scandal, watergate. The minister for energy said he downloaded the travel records from the City of Sydney website. It turned out he didn't. Who knows how the minister for energy got those figures. There are the Safer Communities grants, overseen by the Department of Home Affairs—grants that are designed to improve community safety with CCTV, lighting and gates to make communities safe. What did the government do with it? They were all about making their seats safer. That's what it was. It wasn't about safer communities; it was the 'safer seats program', under the Minister for Home Affairs. Despite all of these things, they cut $14 million from the Audit Office, from the very government agency that uncovered all of these scandals.
One of the most egregious ways in which this government used taxpayer dollars was the way they issued over $720 million of illegal and mostly incorrect robodebts to over 400,000 vulnerable Australians, which then cost them $1.2 billion in the class action. Did they apologise? Did they have any contrition whatsoever? It was only at the 11th hour that they grumbled out some sort of half-baked apology. When companies were using JobKeeper to pay executive bonuses and dividends, the Treasurer accused this side of the House of somehow not wanting to support profitable businesses. Surely, we're better than this sort of schoolyard name-calling in politics when we raise a legitimate concern about the government using millions of taxpayer dollars to underwrite executive bonuses and dividends for people who do not need them. We say that you should probably use that for the thousands of Australians who are actually in need of the JobKeeper subsidy. We're still in a pandemic. Instead of just name-calling Labor and blaming everything on Labor, maybe you should actually use the government funds, the taxpayer dollars, to support hardworking Australians. Instead, what do we get? We get a government that is obsessed with itself, a government that is about the mates, a government that is about the Liberal Party first and Australians second.
I could go into all the other scandals, and there is a long list. I don't have time to go into all of them. The point of the list of scandals the government have is that, over the last few weeks, while they have been dealing with the political crises, the truth is that, over the last eight years—but, more specifically, since this Prime Minister took over—they have dealt with crisis after crisis, political scandal after political scandal, all of their own making. When the Prime Minister is issuing 11 pm apologies about a made-up sexual assault claim that he weaponised and created out of thin air, he's not dealing with the serious issues that confront Australians. If you cut $1.7 billion out of aged care, you're going to have a shortage of investment and inadequate care for our older Australians. And what are we seeing? We're seeing a lack of investment. Instead of dealing with it, the Prime Minister calls a royal commission. We know what the issue is. There is a lack of funding. But what are the government doing? Are they addressing aged care? No. They're talking about themselves. They're issuing apologies at 11 pm and dealing with the scandals that are rocking the government.
There's child care. Women especially are being held back from the workforce or from working full time. Too many Australians are working fewer hours than they want to work, and one of the big factors is child care. Women are doing a disproportionate amount of the care in the family home, and the fourth and fifth days of child care are just unaffordable. Instead of talking about getting Australians, especially women, back into work, what are the government doing? They're talking about themselves. They're talking about the scandals, talking about protecting each other, covering up for the Attorney-General, covering up for the Minister for Defence, covering up for the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction.
Wages in this country have stagnated. Where is the government's ambitious agenda for wages? Young people are working in insecure and low-paid work. Where are the government's efforts to bring wages up in this country? They are completely distracted by talking about themselves, talking about the cover-ups, talking about the political management of the scandals, talking about protecting the boys in the Liberal Party.
The gender pay gap is not closing at the rate it should. The fact that there is still a gender pay gap in this country is a national shame. The Labor Party has put a number of policies out there, including public accountability for large companies and making sure that industries that traditionally are lower paid are dealt with properly. But, instead of actually talking about the gender pay gap, what are the government doing? They're talking about themselves, talking about the scandals, talking about the cover-ups, talking about protecting the Attorney-General.
As for the vaccine rollout, it's simply not good enough that we are going at a snail's pace in this country. The premiers of this country took responsibility in a time of crisis and got the number of coronavirus cases down to zero community transmission. It was no thanks to the $78 million Commonwealth app, might I say. Do you remember that ticket to freedom that this Prime Minister sold us, Mr Deputy Speaker? It wasn't thanks to that; it was thanks to the state premiers. Just because the state premiers have competently led this country, that doesn't mean that the Australian federal government shouldn't be acting with urgency to get the vaccine rolled out. Having companies in the rollout not turn up to aged-care homes isn't good enough. Having vaccines wasted isn't good enough. Having the rollout delayed isn't good enough. The broken promise of having four million doses of the vaccine in Australians' arms by the end of March isn't good enough. Why are the government incapable of actually delivering the vaccine rollout? Because they're focused on themselves, focused on their Liberal mates, focused on protecting the Attorney-General, focused on protecting this scandal-ridden Prime Minister—they're focused on themselves.
For our Pacific family, 8,000 vaccines is not good enough. Yes, there are some good things that this government is doing around PPE and other things, but 8,000 vaccines is like putting a drop of water in the middle of the ocean. There is a crisis on our borders and, make no mistake, it will find its way to Australia. The economic crisis that will follow this health crisis will be devastating for Papua New Guinea, and sending 8,000 vaccines over there is, frankly, embarrassing. We need to do better than that.
The government is not talking about bringing down Australia's emissions. We literally are coming out of one of the worst flooding episodes after one of the worst bushfire episodes. In this country we are at the forefront of climate change. Australia is at the forefront of a global temperature rise, yet we are at the back of the pack in emissions reduction. It's hardly surprising, because what is our minister for emissions reduction more focused on? He is more focused on waging war with the Mayor of the City of Sydney. What an unedifying reduction of the office of the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. What a way to use the privilege of being a minister of the Crown in this country—spending your time trying to attack councillors for travelling overseas, with something that was completely manufactured, completely made up. Instead of dealing with the issues that confront Australians, all this mob are doing is talking about themselves, protecting the Attorney-General, protecting each other, covering up political scandal and covering up this Prime Minister.
The other looming crisis that we have on our hands is JobKeeper ending on Sunday. The Treasurer might like to say that the momentum is with economic growth. In my electorate of Macnamara, there are 20,000 workers who are currently on the JobKeeper subsidy. Each and every one of them is not going to be comforted by a macro-economic sweeping statement from an ivory tower by the Treasurer of this country. These are Australians who are working in industries that are deeply affected by the fact that we are in a global pandemic. If we were not in a global pandemic, these jobs would be safe and secure. We have gotten them to three-quarter time, and the government are walking off the field, because, instead of dealing with the issues that face Australians, they are just protecting themselves, protecting the Attorney-General, protecting the Prime Minister, protecting the jobs for the boys. But we must be better than that. This country must be better than that. Government must be better than just the 'jobs for the boys' attitude that this government is so focused on, better than just political management. Government should be used as a tool for good in this country. Australian governments can do great things, but this government and this Prime Minister are reducing government and the office of Prime Minister to the very smallest of things, and we need a change of government immediately. (Time expired)
I want to firstly acknowledge that many in our community, right across New South Wales, are doing it tough at the moment in the aftermath of the devastating floods that have been occurring over the last few days. As we learnt only recently, we have had a tragic loss of life in north-west Sydney. There has been damage caused to some local homes in my area, and it has been confronting over the last few days to have seen warnings from the SES along very familiar routes that I and many other residents take every day, including warnings by the SES to residents to prepare to evacuate by 3 am, Monday 22 March. I received this warning in the Riverstone, Schofields and Quakers Hill area, along roads that I take every day.
I also want to acknowledge that this has been a very confronting time for our local institutions—in particular, our schools. Across many schools in my community, there has been the option for school to be attended if students are able to, but unfortunately many of the bus services have been cancelled because the bus depot in north-west Sydney was flooded. These schools have had to put up with, unfortunately, the flexibility that had to be applied during COVID. They have taken care to meet the expectations of parents and manage teachers and students during these past couple of days. It could not have been easy, so I want to do a big shout-out to those schools in my local area, including across Schofields, Riverstone and Vineyard. More than 160 schools have been closed across New South Wales due to flooding and severe weather, but I'm very pleased to see that some of them, including Schofields Public School, will now be open tomorrow. That of course is very good news.
I also want to pay very special tribute—and I'm sure my colleague the member for Werriwa will agree with me—to my electorate neighbour just down Old Windsor Road and Richmond Road, the member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman. She isn't in parliament this week, for very obvious reasons. She is being the best local member that she can be. She is out and about in her community lending a hand. With the energy and ferocity that she brings to the role, constituents in the electorate of Macquarie could ask for no-one better. In the case of the member for Macquarie, unfortunately, a year ago parts of her community were being ravaged by bushfires and now we have the other half of her community under water.
I think people need to understand that the majority of the images—at least what I saw on the TV news last night—are in the Hawkesbury, Windsor and Sackville areas of her electorate. You only have to look at her social media posts. She is right there in the middle of it. She's there at the Richmond Club having dinner with the Xie family, who were helicoptered out of their property. She's showing the rows of tractors that were moved up to Don't Worry Oval in Windsor, the highest point in the town. She's there with emergency services personnel making sure people stay off the bridges, including the relatively new Windsor Bridge, which I noticed was underwater. I have every confidence that the member for Macquarie will continue to be the strongest advocate that anyone could wish for in her community, as they hope for a bit of relief. Hopefully that is coming very soon. In the aftermath, I'm sure that she will be there to examine the lessons learnt from disaster management. She'll work with claimants and insurers to ensure fair treatment for those who will be building again.
I want to extend a very special thanks to all of our SES volunteers—and they are volunteers; they do this of their own volition and they do it in very difficult circumstances. I want to note the very many local community groups who've reached out to my office saying that they want to assist not only the volunteers but also those who have been impacted. They are a wide cross-section of our community, be it religious organisations or cultural groups. I want to give a shout-out to just two of them who contacted my office—I'm sure there are many, many more—the Australian Sikh Association and Charity International Australia. We put them in touch with the SES to help feed and assist volunteers and those in need.
As the member for Werriwa will well know, this is exactly what happened at the height of the pandemic: we had local community groups coming forward. With the cooperation of councils, for example, they were given spaces to enable them to assemble hampers for people in need. They did such great outreach, irrespective of culture or religion. It really does bring out the best of humanity. So I want to thank all of those groups, thank our SES and pay very special tribute to the member for Macquarie. Your friends are here. We miss you, but we have been watching you and our very best wishes are with you and your community at this really testing time.
I also want to make a few points, as I have done on countless occasions, it feels like, over the past 10 or so years in this place, about the infrastructure deficit that continues to plague Western Sydney, north-west Sydney and south-west Sydney. As outer metropolitan Sydney continues to grow at a massive rate, it still remains the case that we do not have our fair share when it comes to infrastructure, be it hard infrastructure, if you want to call it that, in terms of roads and other services to support the commute and public transport, or be it other infrastructure such as the best communication services like broadband and mobile coverage in our outer metro areas.
I do want to thank the fourth estate, and in particular The Daily Telegraph. I'm participating in their Best of the West forum on Friday, because it not only serves to highlight that deficit but also puts pressure on all levels government to work together to resolve these very serious issues that arise—I'm sure the member for Werriwa would have very similar issues to me—in terms of health, the commute and education. The things that impact on the quality of life in our communities are those things that they experience every day, be it the disproportionally high rate of tolls that need to be paid every day in order conduct a commute where public transport is simply not an option; or be it parking at local commuter hubs for heavy rail in order to make that journey out of their areas.
Unfortunately, it remains the case that too many jobs are located in areas which are outside these local government areas: outside Blacktown, outside Liverpool, outside Cumberland. So it is still not an option for so many of our local community to work, study and live in the same local area. This needs to change. It is not going to change overnight. However, we have seen work patterns change, and not everything will go back to the way it was. There will be a new normal, in terms of working from home. But, of course, this requires access to the highest-quality broadband services in order for that to happen—in order for students to be able to study from home and in order for those people for whom working from home is an option to be able to do that.
Again, this is not some chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. The reality is this—and I'll highlight some quotes from the growth in Blacktown: the annual change in the estimated resident population in 2019 in Blacktown was 2.29 per cent. The rate of change in New South Wales was 1.37 per cent. The rate of change in Australia overall was 1.53 per cent. You can see that even in one local government area in west and north-west Sydney the population growth far exceeds that of New South Wales and that of Australia. That will not go down when we are having more housing moving into the area around the Western Sydney airport and we are having more housing releases happening in areas of mine that were once farmland, where you can drive through it one week and the next week there are rows and rows of new houses being built.
I welcome new housing going into our areas, but what needs to be remembered is that you have to have the corresponding infrastructure in order for these new residents to enjoy an adequate quality of life. That includes education. It includes building schools where, in a matter of a couple of years, you don't have demountables taking up entire parking areas or kids' playgrounds. That is exactly what is happening around the new areas of The Ponds in my electorate. It's completely unacceptable. It's also completely unacceptable that we still have school areas of such high disadvantage that teachers are running breakfast clubs in the morning just to ensure that their kids are able to start school with some food in their bellies. It highlights the lack of forward planning that has been happening at a state level for quite some time in New South Wales.
We talk about announcement versus delivery. Nowhere could this be more true than this New South Wales government when it comes to issues such as providing adequate education and transport opportunities. They've promised time and again that they would deliver a multistorey commuter car park at Schofields Station. We have learnt that not only was it not delivered by the end of last year, as promised; they're now proposing an at-grade car park. Bear in mind, for those who don't know, Schofields is smack-bang in the middle of what I just described in terms of the explosion in growth. People need to travel outside of their communities primarily in order to access work and study.
The other thing that I have highlighted, not once, not twice—this will, in fact, be my third time highlighting it—is the disparity when it comes to health services in our local area. A week ago I raised in parliament a national scandal, where we have had six babies die unexpectedly in Blacktown Hospital over the past two-or-so years. I was born in that hospital. The residents of the Greater Blacktown area, for which Blacktown Hospital is the only public hospital, deserve to have confidence that they will have the same level of care for themselves and their families as anyone who lives on to the North Shore or in the eastern suburbs. I made representations late last year to the minister, seeking an urgent briefing about what was happening here. I don't come here as a complete novice. I'm previous non-executive director of the Western Sydney area health service, so there are a couple of things I understand about the pressures and about hospital administration. I didn't receive a reply for a month from the New South Wales government in response to that request. I didn't receive a response from the minister. I had a response from his understudy basically saying nothing that we didn't already know.
Call me crazy, but I'm just saying that, if a local MP gets up for the third time in parliament and raises the issue of the inadequate services being provided at Blacktown hospital and the disgrace of having parents go home without a live baby, in unexpected circumstances, you'd think you'd want to contact them. You'd think you'd want to contact them. But, no—nothing from this minister or this government. And I remain very ready for whatever is needed to be done, whatever advocacy is needed to be done. I have met with the nurses and midwives—nurses and midwives who decide, that is, make a conscious decision, to spend their shifts being dehydrated because they can't even afford the time to go to the toilet on their shifts. It is absolutely outrageous. They've got nurses in very high-end obstetrics who are not properly trained being required to perform tasks which they shouldn't be. But there is simply no-one else to do this task.
This type of administration cannot go on. It cannot go on. Again, I say to the Minister for Health in New South Wales: 'You need to be transparent about this. You need to be open with the Blacktown community about what's going on. And, while you're at it, maybe you can deliver on your promise to deliver a new hospital at Rouse Hill.'
You have to go back to 2015 for this, when the then Premier Mike Baird announced a $300 million hospital at Rouse Hill. Four years later, it was announced it required some land to construct a substantial hospital. As at 1 March this year, the land proposed has still not been purchased and studies for the site have stalled. Talk about all promise and no delivery when it comes to health services! This is in one of the fastest-growing regions of Sydney, if not in New South Wales and if not in Australia. It is high time. I will be raising these issues and many others at The Daily Telegraph's forum on Friday, and I thank them for their interest in promoting the needs of Western Sydney residents and a forum by which these issues can be ventilated, because, quite frankly, it is not good enough. The people of west and north-west Sydney are not going to tolerate it for a minute longer.
How was your 2020? Did you buy a new jet? Did you go on holiday overseas? Or was it more Zoom meetings, homeschooling and doomscrolling your bank account?
Well, while your year was tough, billionaires in Australia did better than billionaires anywhere else in the world. They made out like bandits. Gina and Twiggy did better than Bezos and Gates. And now The Australian newspaper thinks they're celebrities. That paper's rich list last weekend revealed just how much these billionaires have made. But it failed to share what they did with it. And what did they do with it? Well, Gina Rinehart spent millions of dollars on Trump's corona cures and denying climate change. Clive Palmer spent millions trashing the vaccine rollout, money he surely could have paid to his workers. Gerry Harvey pocketed millions in taxpayers' money intended to help small business survive the lockdown periods. And Kerry Stokes took millions from the taxpayer, cut his workers' wages, made a few billion and bought a new jet.
We've seen the photos of the billionaires in their pools, in their planes and on their islands, and giving money to their charities. They think they're better than everyone else, but being extremely greedy isn't something that we should celebrate. What we haven't seen is them paying much tax. How can they claim to be proud Australians if they don't even offer to split the bill, let alone pick up the tab? One of the reasons that these people are on this rich list is that they're always first in line for public handouts yet they refuse to pay their fair share of tax. It's time to call games up on this game of greed.
Extreme wealth leads to extreme power. We saw who was looked after during the pandemic, who society is geared towards. The list of wealth-mongers give millions of dollars each year to politicians who, frankly, suck up to billionaires, meaning that the power balance in this country is all out of whack.
And because they have too much power, they think that they don't have to follow the same rules as everyone else. What has happened over the past year, where billionaires have made massive profits while everyone else couldn't go out to have dinner with their family, is outrageous. It distorts the economy and it damages our democracy.
But we can turn it around. Right now in this country inequality is at a record high. As a result, wages are too low, work is too insecure and climate change is getting out of control. We need a bigger tax base to provide people with jobs, make essential services free, and ensure that everyone has a home. The age of extreme greed will come to an end. By putting the Greens in the balance of power and making the billionaires pay their fair share, we can put that money to ensuring that everyone has a well paid, secure job, education is free again and dental and mental health care are part of Medicare. We can afford this if we have the courage to make the billionaires pay their fair share.
There is a reason that we are one of the richest countries in the world but millions of people live below the poverty line, can't get enough work and have to pay too much for basic services. That reason and the people who form part of that reason are all listed on the pages of The Australian. By making the billionaires pay their fair share every Australian can have a better life, not just the greedy gluttons of wealth and privilege.
I want to focus on a few remarks today about the current economic trends and forecasts that our nation is dealing with and some of broader political impacts of the government's decisions. Whilst we know that the government has no plan to tackle the jobs crisis, no plan to help struggling families and no plan to save small family owned businesses who are crying out for help, our country is facing a cliff in a week when JobKeeper will end.
We know that many companies were given JobKeeper subsidies when they didn't need it: $10 billion to $20 billion may have gone to businesses whose profits actually rose during the pandemic. Let's just think about that for a moment. JobKeeper's there to support the hard-working businesses that suffered as a result of the COVID pandemic. It was put into place, supported by this side of parliament, after the Morrison government initially refused to offer support, by working constructively with members of parliament. It was a unification period in our nation's history, when we were able to look at income support for businesses who needed it.
But what were the consequences of that? When asked 'Will it be targeted?' the government said yes. When asked 'Will it go to the people who need it' the government said yes. But what has been revealed—I think it is shameful—is that around $10 billion to $20 billion may have gone to businesses whose profit actually rose during the pandemic. And to make it worse, it has now been revealed that this money was used to pay for executive bonuses.
I have no problems with companies making their own decisions. I have no problems with companies rewarding shareholders. I believe in free enterprise. But to have taxpayer assisted government schemes where bonuses are awarded, at the expense of businesses, does not sit right with me or the majority of Australians.
Meanwhile, when we see businesses being left behind, we only need to look at my home state of Queensland, where a matter of weeks ago I stood with the leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, as he launched Labor's pandemic recovery jobs taskforce. We met with industry groups and leaders from marine technology and marine production companies. They were struggling to stay afloat. As a result of international border closures by the Morrison government, which we supported, the tourism industry in Cairns, of which 70 per cent relies on dollars from overseas, has almost collapsed. They have been crying out since February for a targeted relief policy for their industry, and, quite frankly, the government has ignored them.
Closer to home, in my electorate of Oxley, in the south-western suburbs of Brisbane and Ipswich that I proudly represent, there are currently over 5,000 JobKeeper recipients, and I've spoken to many of them and I've spoken about them in this chamber. One I'll highlight again was the owner of a Cineplex, an independent cinema, Sam Catalano. Cineplex is a wonderful family-owned business. One of their businesses is at Redbank, at the Redbank Plaza shopping centre where people will go and have a great night out. He's a great business owner. And that business is looking at a cliff due to JobKeeper ending. Cinema owners across Australia, who've lost around 70 per cent of their revenue, also have been crying out for help, and the government has ignored them as well. I met with Sam and some of his staff and they explained to me the impacts of JobKeeper coming to an end. He said to me that he will not be able to keep all of his employees. That means those employees will then move to other forms of income support, relying on the taxpayer. They'll lose their jobs. It's that simple. In Queensland alone, there'll be around 50,000 people in the same boat. As I said, many of them are from the tourism sector and the entertainment industry—industries that have suffered blow after blow since the pandemic began.
The people I've spoken to own small and family businesses. My family owned a family business, a small business. My father and my uncle were in businesses for many, many years, so I have a small business background. I grew up in a butcher's family, understanding how difficult it is, week to week, month to month. Some weeks were good; some weeks were bad. Depending on whether we got the crumbed chops or the rump steak, we could determine whether it was a good week or a bad week. If it was sausages, we really knew that the shop was struggling that week. My mother had an indicator in the chest freezer about what the cost of living was in our family.
So I know what it's like, and I understand that small business is the backbone of our economy. Small business provides the engine room of our economy. When small business does well, the economy does well. As someone who is a proud supporter of small business, I know what it's like for those families that are worried about what happens next week or next month—or, indeed, whether they'll be there at the new financial year. A lot of people have done everything right. They have cut back; they have really pushed their budgets to the bottom line. And now they are finding themselves, in my opinion, being punished by the Morrison government.
We are on a trajectory to a net debt of $950 billion that this country owes. That's almost a trillion dollars worth of debt. We've heard a lot of lectures on debt in the time I've been following politics, over the last 20 years. I even go back to the John Hewson days, when he had a debt truck driving around talking about Labor's $40-odd billion worth of debt. Now we're up to a trillion dollars worth of debt, and we don't have a proper plan to manage that debt. We don't have a proper plan to reduce that debt. And, as a result of that debt, we have one million people unemployed and growing—one million people unemployed—and businesses, as a result of the government's decision to end JobKeeper, fearful that they won't survive. So those are the challenges facing our country.
Sadly, this week we have seen a government mired in sleaze, sex and cover-up—that would be my way of describing this week. I don't think it has been a good role model for people wanting to enter politics. We've seen the Prime Minister under pressure. We've seen him having to apologise for, I guess, making things up—that would be the only way I could say it. Yesterday he had to issue a midnight apology for making things up at live press conferences. Whilst all these issues are swirling around, in my electorate of Oxley the 13,000 businesses that I represent are looking for economic leadership in this country.
On top of that we have, as we come out of the COVID pandemic, the twin issues of a health crisis and an economic crisis still facing our nation. The promise of the government's slogans and media announcements was that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March. When the residents and businesses I speak to hear the Prime Minister of the day, during an economic crisis and a health crisis, claim that four million people will be vaccinated by the end of March, they believe it. They take the Prime Minister at his word, because it is a privilege to lead this country. Even the experts realise we're not sure when the vaccine rollout will occur. We were told everyone would be vaccinated by October, but then the slippery, tricky language came in and we were told, 'That's not really what we meant; we meant something else.' But, despite the COVID-19 vaccine promise being broken, there is one promise that the government is keeping—that is, to end JobKeeper. I wish, amid their announcements about the vaccine and their other announcements, that they would break their commitment and actually talk about a plan to deal with the businesses that are going to suffer as a result of JobKeeper being on the chopping block.
We know that this government isn't on the side of Australians. It is setting them up to fail. I've spoken time and time again in the parliament about the debt crisis and the small-business crisis that people talk to me about. I know that in my home state people are looking at the debt crisis they're facing in their own lives because of the rising cost of living, job insecurity and flatlining wages. As at December last year, people in my home state had an average of $4,038 unpaid on their credit cards at the end of each month—well above the national average of $3,000. The decisions that happen in this parliament and the decisions the government makes have real impacts on the way families manage their budget and how much pressure they're under to make payments and make sure the rent is paid on time. The unstable job market plus the impending end of JobKeeper is giving some people no choice but to live with a bank account that's in the red, putting them at risk of being preyed upon by loan sharks.
This is something I have spoken about before. I am glad the member for Whitlam is in the Chamber. I know he shares, as do the member for Werriwa and the member for Parramatta, my deep concern and fear about the government not standing up to the loan sharks in this country. We on this side of the Chamber are united about doing something to protect vulnerable Australians. We hear the stories all the time, every member of parliament. If you do a street corner meeting or visit a shopping centre, you'll hear from people who are fearful about losing their job, who want more hours or who know someone who has just lost their job. Someone from Westlake, a mental health worker, recently told me that some payday lenders were charging borrowers more than 407 per cent interest per annum on payday loans. Just last month I spoke about this issue to the Consumer Action Law Centre, who told me that this isn't as bad as it's going to get. Think about what debt situations people are in, Mr Deputy Speaker. When JobKeeper ends, in a matter of one week, these figures are expected to significantly increase.
So, whilst there are issues surrounding scandals within the government, in my time today I'd simply say: focus on the people, not on yourselves; focus on the people and the small businesses who are worried about what will happen as a result of government decisions that aren't in their interest. They are decisions that aren't in the interests of millions of Australians who are looking over that cliff, who are worried and living from pay cheque to pay cheque. The cost of living—the cost of child care, the cost of education, all of those things—is spiralling out of control. They are looking for a government that is on their side. That's why I'm so proud to stand as part of Anthony Albanese's Labor team that has laid out a framework and has laid out economic policies and social policies to deliver essential support to people, not only in my community but also right across Australia. Child care is an important issue in my electorate and I know it's an issue close to the heart of the shadow minister for child care, Amanda Rishworth, and the leader, who have constantly, since the budget last year, campaigned on this.
In a matter of months, the budget will be delivered in this country. I once again call on the government to listen to what is happening to the sector. During the pandemic, we saw the sector heavily punished by this government. The first workers punished and taken off JobKeeper were childcare workers. There's still no explanation as to why that decision was taken. I come back to my earlier remarks. All of the decisions that the Morrison government has taken have a huge impact on working families. While there are internal challenges that the government faces, scandals of its own making, I simply say today: please listen to what your decisions are doing to the community. Think about those actions and make sure that the economic conditions in this country don't keep hurting working Australians.
I've been in this place for a while now—16 years. When the Abbott government was first elected, I watched the government push the pause button. It was as though everything stopped. All the action, all the things that we needed to do on climate change, the changing nature of work and the cost of living pressures on families, went on pause and nothing happened. Day after day, we watched speeches made in the main chamber that usually would be pushed to the Federation Chamber because important bills had to be debated. There were times when we almost ran out of legislation. There were times when virtually nobody on the government side had anything to say. It went on for month after month. And then we had the Turnbull government and it continued. We still had endless changes to energy policy but nothing substantial. There was no real action on climate change, there was destruction of the NBN, no real action on aged care and no real closing of the gap. Incredibly important things went on the backburner. There were lots of reports but no action; nothing. There was very little happening in the parliament. Then we had the Morrison government, and it's even worse now than it was under the first two versions of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. My emotional state went from sadness over the opportunities that the country was missing and then it went to frustration and even despair. But I'm surprised, I have to say, at the level of anger I have now. I don't get angry. I've lost my temper twice in my life. It's not my natural state, but I'm now angrier than I've been in a long time at what is happening in this parliament and what is not happening in this parliament.
Today, I want to talk about the failure of this government to listen and hear the voices of people out there who are crying out in despair, crying out in need or crying out in hope and passion. We have a government that is completely oblivious to it all. The three big issues that come to the fore when I think of that are the women that gathered outside last week, the Indigenous people who are crying out to be heard, and veterans, who also met on the grass this week, asking for a royal commission into veteran suicide. I want to start with women. This has been an extraordinary week. I'm going to start by saying I am not a victim of sexual abuse, though one in five women are victims of sexual abuse after the age of 15. There are many victims before that, but one in five are victims of sexual abuse over the age of 15. That's a lot of women. Large numbers of them gathered outside this place in anger and rage at the allegations that had been made against members in this House and allegations of things that had taken place in this House, asking the government to hear their rage and their anger and act.
The independent inquiry needs to take it seriously. People who had been silent for years have been contacting my office saying; 'This isn't good enough. Something else has to change.' Instead, we've had some of the most extraordinarily offensive statements being made by members of the government. I'm going to touch on a couple of them, because I think that, sometimes, when the statements are made, the people who made them and some of the people who hear them don't hear them from the perspective of women who lived, as I did, through the age of Germaine Greer. I was told that I wouldn't get a job in radio unless I married a rich man and bought a radio station or learnt to type. I did get a job in radio. I've known men who demonstrated absolutely that they could do whatever they damn well liked if they chose to, and they made it perfectly clear. We have lived through being trivialised, ignored and spoken over for decades—and lived with most of it—and then we get statements that the government doesn't need to worry about this because it is an issue that only white, university-educated women care about.
Let me tell you what I think when I hear that, because I am a white, university-educated woman. I have never heard anybody say that we don't have to care about something because it's an issue that only white, educated men care about. I have never heard the opposite said. When that is said, the people who say it and the people who perpetrate it are saying that white, university-educated women are trivial, that they don't matter, that they're just off on the side somewhere; they're doctors wives that have a second job for their husband. It reminds me, and women of my age, of how many times I was told in interviews that I wouldn't get the job because the man who came in before me had a wife to support. It reminds me of how many times we are discounted and put aside because we are women and for no other reason. That's what we hear. Then we hear a minister suggest that there are lots of false allegations of rape: 'We believe the man here. It's probably a false allegation.' If it were true that there are lots and lots and lots of false allegations of rape then the chief of the Army would be pulling in the men in the Army and saying to them: 'In order to avoid being falsely accused of rape, don't go out with women after midnight, don't get drunk, don't be too friendly, don't smile.' But they don't. They call the women in. They call the women in, because one in five women in Australia have been sexually assaulted after the age of 15. Then the Prime Minister says something. Again, I accept that he may not have meant it this way, but let me say what I heard. I heard the Prime Minister say, 'If they were in another country, they'd be shot for this.' I add the next sentence: 'Oh, they were just raped and not heard. Oh, that's fine.' That's what I hear, because I have lived through decades of this sort of stuff. I have lived through decades of it. Any woman my age is going to have exactly the same response that I am having at this point—all of them. I talk to them every day.
This has to change—and the behaviour of men. I now walk down the corridors of parliament, having lived a life where I don't walk home in the dark alone. I go to town sometimes where I never see a woman walking alone; I only see a woman walking with a man. I see men walking alone but not women. You live in a world where you hold your keys in your hand. You don't leave too late. We live in a world where we have to assume that the men we see in the street are dangerous. Now we find out that there's a bunch of blokes in this House, walking around these corridors right now, who think it's perfectly acceptable to perform a sex act on their female boss's desk. That is a statement that absolutely says, 'I'm powerful, and I'm more powerful than you, and this is my right.' That's what it means to me and that's what it means to women. I am walking around this place as furious as I can be that I am in a position where I know that there are men in this place who knew it was going on, who shared it on Facebook and who said and did nothing. What is their attitude to me and the other women in this place? That's what women hear, because we have lived this for decades. Enough is enough. If the men on either side don't get it then they need to get out more and talk to more women, because this is just not right.
Another issue I really want to talk about is the Indigenous voice to parliament. It's another case where this government demonstrates that it cannot put itself in any life that it hasn't lived itself. They cannot empathise or imagine or conceptualise a life that is not theirs. Women? No, sorry, don't get it. Indigenous people, who have lived lives of incredible loss and grief, poverty, lack of housing, all sorts of other things, and a lack of hope. And this government, when faced with the Statement from the Heart, don't hear it. It's as if they are incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of somebody else and looking at the world from another perspective.
I'm lucky: I live in one of the most diverse communities in the world, in Parramatta. It's incredibly diverse. When you live in a community that diverse, you don't have the luxury of assuming that your view is the norm and everybody else has to persuade you. You live in a world where people have come from different places and lived different experiences. They have different religions; their languages are thousands of years old; they have concepts that they can express in one language but not another. You live your life in a community like that knowing all the time that you have to keep open and bend and trust that the people you're talking to are coming from a place of good, as most people do.
But this government can't do that. Whether it's women, whether it's Indigenous people, whether it's veterans, they cannot put themselves in the place of someone who's life experience they have not shared. A bunch of veterans met out the front this week to talk about veteran suicide. I haven't been in a war zone. My father was. I lived in an army suburb, so I saw the men come back from Vietnam and I saw their families fall apart. It was a shocking thing. I was a teenager, and there were a lot of really traumatised men who came back at that time. It's a shocking thing. Since the Afghan war we have lost 41 soldiers in combat, and we've lost over 500 to suicide. This is an indictment on all of us who sit quietly and accept that our soldiers go to war, and when they come back they take their lives in their hundreds and we don't act.
When those veterans come to us with their life experience as a group and say, 'This is what we need', we should be able to trust them. I recognise that the government didn't oppose the motion that was passed in the parliament the other day. But it's about time that the government supported it and did this. They are clearly saying, 'Give us the royal commission and then give a permanent structure to look at what the solutions might be.' They are telling us that there are things that have to be exposed, that have to be uncovered, that have to be said, and they need a safe place to do that. Let's listen to them. We thought enough of them to send them off to war. We should think enough of them to trust them to know what they need now they have come back. It's an absolute indictment on this government that it can't even hear the people that it claims to be the great voice of.
And then you get to the rest of it. Aged care: honestly, they called the royal commission into aged care after being shoved for months. When finally there was going to be an expose on mainstream television, they finally called a royal commission into aged care the day before, having rejected it and refused to do it for months. They did it. They ignored 21 other reports that raised similar issues, doing nothing. They didn't hear it. They didn't hear people talk about their malnourished parent lying in faeces, being left in a bed all day, being left in a chair. They didn't hear any of that until the crisis of image—their image—hit and they called it. They ignored 21 other reports.
Then, when the royal commission put out their interim report, called Neglect, they didn't hear that either. There were 100,000 people on the waiting list for home care. There are still 100,000 people on the waiting list for home care, years later. They do not hear the voices raised in pain and anger. They do not hear it and they do not act. They are too slow, they don't hear it, they try to avoid it altogether. It is only when the crisis of public opinion hits that they do anything at all.
Look at the COVID response to all the things that the federal government had responsibility for. Visas; people stuck overseas unable to re-enter Australia. A couple is overseas, the wife is pregnant, the man comes back to work, she stays for a couple of weeks to be with her mum, the borders close and she's then too pregnant to fly home. Eight months later, the father hasn't met his child. That's what I'm hearing. How can this government have gone on for a year and not heard that? I've got people coming to me every day of the week telling me stories like that. People have been separated for months—literally, a father who hadn't met his child. Can you imagine that? This is what I'm hearing. This government is oblivious to this level of pain. They're oblivious. It's as if they can't hear anything.
We've had people screaming out in unison, people on JobSeeker—previously Newstart and the dole—and all the business organisations in the country, saying, 'You have to increase this. You have to increase this.' And what do we get? We get three dollars and something a day. It's irrelevant, right? It's irrelevant. There are organisations in my electorate that have really come to the party. They're delivering food. I delivered food to a two-bedroom house that had three families in it, and one of them had a newborn that had only come home from hospital the day before. That's a great start to life! You get quotes like this from one of our charities:
Our services are about to be avalanched with people who cannot pay their bills, people who cannot afford their food, people who cannot afford to live in their rental accommodation anymore …
That comes from Claerwen Little, the national director of UnitingCare Australia, a big organisation. And that's what I'm hearing. Anybody who is out there in the community would be hearing similar stories, and yet the government does not act. In fact, it is worse, because JobKeeper goes at the end of this week, and many, many more people will go on to JobSeeker. Please listen. It's your job. Just listen. (Time expired)
I think it's fair to say that, this week, parliament has been pretty much focused on itself and the goings-on inside this building. It's equally regrettable to be saying that when outside of this building, in a place where I come from, a place that many people in this House come from, we've seen volunteers lending their efforts, time and energy to the crisis facing flooded communities and landscapes. On display has been the very best of what Australia stands for, whilst in this place we have seen some—too much, too much—of the very worst, and that's a matter of deep regret. There have not been many times over the last 10 years that I've walked into this place feeling a little bit of shame about the place that I work, and I have to say, regrettably, that this week I have felt that, and I know that I'm not alone.
I want to spend a little bit of time in my response on the appropriation bills to do the very opposite—to look outwards and to celebrate some of the great things that are going on in my community. I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the numerous people who were recognised and received awards during the recent Australia Day ceremonies. I want to congratulate Don Martin, who was the Shellharbour Australia Day Citizen of the Year, and Charli Ryan, who was the Shellharbour Australia Day Young Citizen of the Year.
Don is best known for his work locally with Legacy. He was also a founding member, however, of the Foreshore Improvement Group and is an advocate for the cockle moratorium and the local environment. For those not from my area, the cockle moratorium is about putting a stop to the unsustainable harvesting of cockles from the Lake Illawarra foreshore. When Don's not improving our local environment, he is regularly raising funds for and then distributing them—but, more than that, distributing kindness and company—to war widows throughout the Illawarra.
Charli Ryan, over the last 12 months, has made a huge difference in her local school and her local community. In 2020 she participated in the New South Wales kids parliament, discussing the issues that were facing young people—and 2020 was a very special year for all kids who were contributing to the New South Wales youth parliament. Charli noted that the emerging need for face masks within the community was not being met, and she set about purchasing materials for homemade face masks, which she distributed amongst the elderly people in her community and to the Salvation Army. She wasn't alone, and when she accepted the award she reached out to one of her schoolmates and said, 'This could equally have gone to her and many of the others that were involved in that project.' I want to pay tribute to the great work of Charlie and her school compatriots.
I want to give a shout-out to a great mate of mine, who I've known for over a decade now. He is Chaplain John Kewa from the Mission to Seafarers. John wasn't born in Australia. He was born in the hills of Papua New Guinea and he still has a lot of family back there. I know he is very anxious about what's going on with the spread of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea at the moment. But it really was a wonderful day when we were able to celebrate John and recognise him and his great contributions through his faith and his work with the local seafarers by making him the Wollongong City Citizen of the Year. It's an absolutely brilliant story. He accepted that award alongside young Thura Sabbar, the Wollongong City Young Citizen of the Year.
I want to say a few words about John. John is a chaplain and manager at the Mission to Seamen at Port Kembla. During the COVID-19 pandemic, during the worst of the pandemic, John showed compassion for the 1,200 crew members who were stuck on the Ruby Princess. Remember the Ruby Princess? It seems like forever ago. They sailed out of Sydney Harbour, they had no port anywhere, and they were taken into Port Kembla Harbour, trapped on board. I want to pay tribute to John and the local community, my colleague Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, and the member for Wollongong, Paul Scully, who together with others organised a workshop to bring food hampers and care packs to the crew on board the Ruby Princess. They will never forget the kindness that was shown to them by the City of Wollongong.
John Kewa was at the very heart of it. John and his team delivered over 13 pallets—not packages, pallets, and that's a hell of a lot of care packages—and hundreds of letters of support to the crew. He's at it again. He is providing support for the seafarers stranded off Port Kembla Harbour who have been at sea for months and months. I want to say something about this, because we are literally witnessing a humanitarian crisis. There are nearly half a million seafarers stuck on ships across the globe. They've been stuck on those ships for over a year, and they've essentially been forced into indefinite service. They can't go home, and often they can't go into the ports which their ships are moored off.
Seafarers are performing a critical role. They transport food, minerals, medicines, farm produce and other supplies around the globe. A trading nation like Australia, where over 90 per cent of our goods come to us or go from us on a ship, is incredibly reliant on the seafarers and the ships that they staff. We've paid a lot of tribute to the people who work in our hospitals, our essential services workers and our front-line workers in the retail industries, because they're very visible. The people who aren't visible are the seafarers. I think we need to do more, as a nation which is so reliant on seafarers, to ensure that half a million people who are stranded on ships can be safely brought home, that their ships can be safely attended to, and that these forgotten seafarers are provided the care, attention and the safe passage home that they so rightly deserve.
I've mentioned Thura Sabbar. She migrated to Australia in 2009—another great migrant story. Since she arrived in Australia, she and her family and friends have been repaying what they see as an enormous debt back to the community ever since. In many respects, I think the debt is ours to them. Thura has organised and volunteered in heaps of fundraisers, including Zonta birthing kits and supporting organisations such as Need to Feed for the past four years. She has also been offering a free translation service for refugees from Arabic-speaking countries. She is a sensational young woman, and we can see hope for the future with young leaders like her coming through.
In the Wingecarribee Shire Council, we saw Catherine Constable named the Australia Day Citizen of the Year and Charlotte Gillespie named the Young Citizen of the Year. Catherine Constable is a long-term advocate for and supporter of senior citizens across the Southern Highlands and has served for more than 17 years on the board of Wingecarribee Adult Day Care Centres. I want to congratulate Catherine but also recognise the staff and volunteers at the adult day care centres in the Southern Highlands, throughout my electorate and throughout the country. They provide an absolutely essential service for those Australians, many of them living with dementia, and also their carers, who are provided some respite through the services that they provide. Good on you, Catherine. We owe a great debt of gratitude to you. I also want to pay tribute to Charlotte Gillespie, who was nominated for her community and volunteering work, which includes regular visits to the Harbison day care and The Abbey nursing home, bringing joy and delight to the residents of those services.
There are a bunch of people I'd like to recognise for their services to the community, and I won't be able to get through them all in the time that I have available. But I ran into a bloke at my regular community outreach—I do them every weekend, as many members of this place do—and I was reminded of him on Sunday, because, as you'd know, Deputy Speaker Irons, Sunday was World Poetry Day. UNESCO has named 21 March as the day when we recognise poets around the globe. In recognising poets internationally, UNESCO makes the point that poetry reaffirms our common humanity by reminding us all of the common feelings and emotions that we feel right around the globe. I was reminded of this when I caught up with Dr Mark Tredinnick, who was given an OAM the year before last for his contribution to poetry and to education. I want to thank Mark for the great work that he does and recognise the contribution that poets make to our community. Barely a week goes past when we're not quoting one of them in this place, to add gravitas and a bit of intellectual calibre to our otherwise tawdry contributions to the Hansard.
Mr Joyce interjecting—
I'm not referring to you, Member for New England. Everything that you contribute to this place is always poetic!
An honourable member: The Banjo of parliament!
The very Banjo himself.
I want to spend a bit of the time I have left paying tribute to the great work of the women—volunteers and paid workers—of the Illawarra Women's Health Centre, led by Sally Stevenson, who is a remarkable local leader. They are a great team. I'm hoping to get them down to parliament to talk about not only their great work but one of the projects that they are dearly hoping gets funded at the next federal budget. As with most valuable services during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for but also access to the services provided to women experiencing domestic and family violence significantly increased—it's a great tragedy—as did the need for mental health services and sexual and reproductive health services. For example, during the second quarter of last year, the centre had almost four times the number of domestic and family violence contacts that it did in the first quarter of last year. Last year the women's health centre supported over 1,300 individual clients and had over 20,000—I'll say that number again: over 20,000—client contacts throughout the year. Despite the challenge of COVID-19 social restrictions, they had an ever-increasing demand for their services, and their doors remained open.
The centre is leading the way for an innovative and Australia-only service for people who are recovering from domestic violence. They also do preventative programs within local schools and local community organisations. They're in their third year of the Mothers and Sons program, which offers a unique child-rearing program that gives mothers the techniques to help their sons deal with emotions and express themselves in a healthy way. I commend this program to other members in this place. I want to raise awareness of the centre's proposal to establish an Illawarra domestic violence and trauma recovery centre. We have spoken a lot over the last fortnight about Brittany Higgins' allegations, the horrible circumstances and allegations of rape, and the stories that have been unleashed by other members and staff in this place. They have caused us all to take a step back and say, 'Are we doing enough? Are we providing the right sort of example to our communities? Are we actually doing enough to provide the services and the support that our communities need?'
I want to take the Prime Minister up on the challenge that he gave to all of us. The words that he said a few days ago were that he wants to do more, he wants us to do better and he wants us to do more. We've got a budget coming up in a few weeks. This is a great opportunity for the government to fund the Illawarra domestic violence trauma recovery centre. It will cost $10 million over three years, but the cost is nothing compared to the benefits that it will provide to the community. I call on the government ministers who are responsible for this area of policy development. I think of the things that we've spent $10 million on. I think of the waste that we have seen through the JobKeeper program going to profitable companies, paying bonuses and dividends when they didn't need it. I see the Leppington triangle and the waste. Here's something we could spend a little bit of money on and get a lot of benefit. (Time expired)
The previous speaker, a good friend of mine, mentioned in his contribution that, at the weekend, it was World Poetry Day, so I thought I might open by citing a few lines from a very famous poem that I suspect has been brought to the minds of many women across Australia over the past few weeks, and that's Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market. It's a very long poem. I'm not going to read the entire poem, but it's a poem that has themes about women and about the importance of sisterhood between women. It ends:
For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
It's very true in this place that the spirit of sisterhood and sorority among some of the women MPs has been particularly important in the past few weeks. It's been a salutary reminder of the importance of having women in politics. The other thing that's become very clear in the past few weeks, and particularly in very recent days, are the dangers in talking about representation, in talking about women's participation in politics, of seeking to derive an 'is' from an 'ought'. What do I mean by that? Well, there's been some debate about the importance of the Liberal Party and the National Party increasing female representation. Some people say, 'You shouldn't have quotas. The best person for the job should be selected.' I say 'derive an "is" from an "ought"' because, of course, the best person for the job should be selected, but the question is: is that the reality in the Liberal and the National parties right now? Is the best person for the job being selected? I think most people would agree that, if the best person for the job were selected, you'd already be at 50 per cent female representation. You can't seriously argue that the men that are in the Liberal Party room and the National Party room are of such intense merit that they completely outstrip and outweigh the women that might have been in their place. There are some structural impediments to women being selected, and, if there were already great processes that made sure the best person for the job was pre-selected, you'd already be at 50 per cent women.
This isn't something that just gets fixed by accident. It's not something that you just cross your fingers and hope will be improved. It's something that you have to deliberately change. You have to do that through making conscious, deliberate decisions about your rules, your structure and your culture. I'm not lecturing you because I think the Labor Party has throughout its history been pure; I'm saying this because I've been a member of the Labor Party for most of the time that we have been changing our rules, our culture and our structures. We didn't get to the point that we're at now, where around 50 per cent of our caucus is women and 50 per cent of our shadow cabinet are women, because we hoped for the best and thought that if we kept doing what we were doing things would just change by themselves. It didn't just happen. It happened because women insisted and it happened because men agreed. It happened through argument, debate and decades of constant lobbying and advocacy. That's how we got here. So I say to the women in the Liberal and National parties, to those women who are worried about being accused of being quota fillers or being told that they're only there because there's a quota and not because they've got merit, to think about this: all of those women that have got such merit and who aren't there—why aren't they there? Do we really think it's because they are not as meritorious as the men who are there, or is it possible, just possible, that there needs to be some structural change to allow them, to allow that merit, to shine through and to be recognised and accepted?
It wasn't easy in Labor either. There are the arguments being proposed by some in the Liberal Party now: we couldn't do that because then people would use the quota-filler line—the argument that you're there just to fill a spot—against the women that we do have in the parliament and we don't want that to happen. Certainly those arguments were made on occasion in the 1990s in the Labor Party as well. But what really brought people around was the demonstration effect. It was seeing that it really did make a difference. Do you know what happened when the rules changed? We didn't need to use them, because suddenly all the excuses—'Women don't really want to run,' 'Women aren't really interested,' 'We can't find good women who are willing to run'—fell away. All of a sudden, when there were rules requirements that would have given female candidates a structural advantage—although they were really just levelling the playing field in actual terms—all of these women were able to be found!
An opposition member: Who knew?
Who knew that there were all these women who were willing to run for parliament? For many, many years, in my own state of Queensland, we had some rules, but they weren't used. They were not called on to be used. What happened was people said; 'Do you know what we've got to do? We're going to tap on the shoulder of that incredible woman and ask her to run.' That is why we've had some really fantastic women from Queensland in Labor—and I'd particularly like to pay tribute to my female colleagues from Queensland, past and present, in the federal caucus—but also, of course, our wonderful state MPs and ministers and premiers. We've had them because we took a deliberate step. It took a long time. It was hard fought. Compromises had to be made. Changes had to be made. It wasn't ideal. It wasn't always pretty. But we got there because we fought for it. We saw the demonstration effect. There's more to do. Of course, there's more to do. But we got moving on it and we changed it.
This is not a criticism of the idea that you want to have a good contest in your preselections or that you want to find who will do well in the parliament through putting them to the test of local preselections, of the consideration of their skills, their experience and their qualities. It's just about saying: 'Hang on a minute. If we're not already at 50 per cent women, why? Why aren't we there? Is it really because they don't want to run or because they don't have the same merit as the blokes? Is that really what it is, or is there something else there?' I didn't have the benefit of the affirmative action rules for the Labor Party for my preselection. They didn't apply at the time because it was a casual vacancy. I came in in a by-election. But the decades of cultural change meant that I didn't face the same structural impediments to preselection that I would have had I been standing during the early nineties instead of the early-2010s. So I just wanted to make that point and to say to people in the Liberal Party: there's nothing to be afraid of.
I know that there are some in your own party who will adopt the position that somehow affirmative action rules might lead to a lower quality of representation. In fact, I was reminded on the way here of a quote from Senator Eric Abetz from 2018—and let me give you the exact quote, Deputy Speaker, because I'd hate to mislead the parliament—in which he said: 'Look at the Labor Party side of the parliament and you can see what quotas do, and it ain't a good look.' That's what he said in September 2018. I tell you what: if you stack our women, right now, up against Senator Eric Abetz, I'll tell you who 'ain't a good look', Deputy Speaker, and it's not the women of the Labor Party caucus. This sort of attitude contributes to the structural impediments; it doesn't help them. Of course, Senator Eric Abetz has also been engaged in some other controversies today which we don't need to go into right now.
So let me say to the women of the Liberal Party: 'There is no friend like a sister,' to quote Christina Rossetti. And let me say to the men of the Liberal Party: now is the time to share your power, address your structural impediments and work together, because we need more women in politics. We need a critical mass of women in politics. We need that, to have a culture that is not just welcoming for more women in politics and future women in politics but to set the tone in our national parliament about the sort of country that we are and the sort of country that we aspire to be, and that's a country in which it is safe to be a woman, in which it is safe to be a woman in the workplace, in which it is safe to be a woman participating in the public square, in which it is safe to be a woman in a male dominated industry, in which it is safe to be a woman in a private home—in the confines of the home. We need a country that is safe and in which people can have full participation in all areas of society.
To quote another little bit of poetry, let me say this. I'm from the labour movement. I've always been a unionist; I've always been someone in the labour movement. And there's a really classic piece of poetry which became a song in the labour movement, which is 'Bread and Roses', and it is women unionists saying, 'Give us bread, but give us roses.' They're saying: 'We want to have a good quality of life and a good stable income, but we also want to have beauty and art'—that's the significance of the line—and what that is about is the ability to participate in all areas of life, not just to subsist. Subsistence of course is fundamental—you want to have that—but on top of that you want to have a good quality of life, and, to get to that point where women have bread and women have roses, we have to have full participation in all levels of Australian life. That's what we need to get to.
This isn't a personal criticism of any man in the Liberal Party—I mean, it was one of Senator Abetz, I admit, but not of any other man in the Liberal Party or the National Party. These issues are structural, and structural changes are needed, and, when you get structural changes, you will also have cultural changes. But a good start is preselecting more women and electing more women. And having women in politics matters.
I also wanted to mention a few other things in contributing to this debate. First let me say this. My community is deeply anxious about what's going to happen at the end of this month when JobKeeper is cut—when the Prime Minister and the Treasurer cut JobKeeper. We're talking about thousands of working people in my electorate and so many businesses who've been reliant on JobKeeper to stay afloat. We had to drag the government to a wage subsidy during COVID. They said it was a dangerous idea—and then they adopted it. We were happy when they adopted our proposal that there be a wage subsidy. But now we're in a situation where we're heading towards the cliff and people are going to fall off it, and they are gravely concerned about what the impact on jobs is going to be once JobKeeper comes to an end. There are plenty of people in my electorate who've been crying out about it.
I've been particularly receiving a lot of incoming correspondence from travel agents. Of course, the tourism sector was hit so hard—it was absolutely trammelled—by COVID. The tourism sector has been really struggling in my state of Queensland, in my home town of Cairns and, of course, throughout Queensland, including in my electorate, which is in the south-east corner. Travel agents who have been calling us are at the end of their tether because they're so concerned that the government is not giving them certainty about their future. They didn't get the benefit of the aviation package. They don't know what's going to happen to them in the future. The government needs to support these workers and it needs to support all workers who are terrified about what's going to happen once we get to the JobKeeper cliff.
I want to mention the unemployment payment, which is now called JobSeeker. The government needs to recognise that people are crying out for support. We must address poverty in this country. At a time when there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the labour market, of course we need to address the situation we find ourselves in, which is that so many people rely on JobSeeker, and the arrangements for JobSeeker aren't working to ensure those people have the best chance of a future secure, decent, well-paid job.
Finally I want to mention traffic congestion. It's a very prosaic issue, but, honestly, the quality of life for my constituents is directly affected by how much traffic congestion we have, because the more time you spend on the road, the less time you spend with your kids or your elderly parents or on leisure activities. This has a direct impact on quality of life. I have called on the government before to address the traffic snarl that is the Cavendish Road level crossing at Coorparoo in my electorate of Griffith. In a previous budget, the government committed $87 million to the level crossing in the neighbouring electorate of Bonner, but they've not committed a cent to this level crossing. I really do encourage the government to take action on traffic congestion. There has been a lot of complaint across a long time about the fact that a lot of Liberal Party initiatives in government go to Liberal-held or Liberal-targeted electorates. It's not good enough. People on the south side of Brisbane deserve support and they deserve a real commitment from this government when it comes to busting traffic congestion. It will assist people to the east of my electorate as well. The government need to have a good, serious, hard look at this. (Time expired)
After eight consecutive years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, this country has been left without a plan for the future. There is a void where there should be leadership. We have a conservative government that's more interested in running a protection racket for poorly behaved cabinet ministers than it is in acting in the national interest of the Australian people. The government are in chaos. They just move from one crisis to another. Our communities deserve better. They deserve a government that is on their side.
The government is failing Australians by failing to tackle climate change. We can see the evidence of this on our TVs right now in devastated communities in New South Wales and Queensland. This week we've witnessed catastrophic flooding across New South Wales that has destroyed thousands of properties and cut off towns, and unfortunately today, as we've heard, there has been a fatality. I can only extend my sympathies and thoughts to all of those people who are now trying to rebuild their lives.
These floods follow the disastrous bushfire season of 2019-20. We keep getting all these events that are meant to be one-in-100-year weather events—droughts, floods, fires. They're hitting more often and more quickly, yet this government fails to tackle climate change. It fails to recognise the link between these catastrophic weather events and global warming. It is because this government has a bunch of deniers on its backbench. How can they take action, how can they be the government we need for this country's future—a government setting up the clean energy jobs of the future and making sure our children will have a future—when they're full of deniers? They are failing our communities, our country.
This government fails to acknowledge how climate policy is intrinsically linked to jobs, and that the failure to act on climate change will inevitably end up costing our economy. Labor's spokesperson on this, Chris Bowen, put it very well. He said:
I'm worried about what will happen to the planet in thirty years without real action on climate change. I'm worried about how many Australians, and how many people around the world, will die in natural disasters, heat waves and other health impacts of climate change. But I'm also worried about what the employment prospects for people in our suburbs and regions will look like if the nation continues to neglect the economic transformation that is good climate change policy.
I represent a suburban electorate. My electorate is in the suburbs of Melbourne. People there always talk to me about the need to act on climate and the need to secure people's jobs. The idea that there is some kind of massive gap in what our communities in the suburbs want and what our communities in regional areas want is a massive light being spread by the climate change culture denying warriors on other side. Our communities in the suburbs and in the regions want the same thing. They want a decent, secure future for them and their children. But this government of climate deniers preys on fear. It is not doing the work to create the jobs of the future. It's selling workers and their families out. It's selling families in my communities out and it's failing everyone's future.
I was just in a briefing with Labor's Environment Action Network, the AMWU and the ETU. These are groups that are doing the work. They are on the ground in the Hunter, a region where jobs will need to be found for the future, and they are doing the work with the community there about what those jobs look like, about what it looks like if Australia is a global leader in this area instead of the global laggard we currently are. Australia is increasingly being isolated from the rest of the world, and we will miss out on the jobs and opportunities that come from clean technologies and from being a leader in this space. We're not going to get there without action from this government.
Look at what's happening in the United States. The centrepiece of Joe Biden's energy and climate proposals is a call for $1.7 trillion over 10 years promoting a portfolio of clean energy technologies: supporting electric vehicles, building a national vehicle charging network, accelerating the smart grid and battery storage, scaling up tax credits for renewable technologies, and nurturing next-generation energy sources like hydrogen and advanced nuclear power plants.
That's a government with a plan. That's a government that is investing in the jobs of the future, that is putting its country on the right track. What have we got in this government? A bunch of deniers who are doing nothing, who are pretending they're acting but who are failing to make the commitments and the investments that we need for the future and that our children need for their future. We can't have a few people in the Liberal National party backbench holding Australia back. Australia is losing economic opportunities. We should be and we can be a renewable energy superpower for the world. Labor can achieve this. This government is failing.
Our aged-care system is in crisis. The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has found that the aged-care system has failed to support older Australians. There have been almost two dozen reports on aged care in the past decade, and more than half of them have been public since the current Prime Minister has been both Treasurer and Prime Minister. Yet the Prime Minister has cut $1.7 billion from our aged-care system. I saw firsthand in my community the devastation caused by Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, failing to protect people in aged care in our community during the worst of the pandemic last year. The Federal government is responsible for aged care, but the Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen when people were dying in our aged-care homes in my community. The Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen when families in my community were coming to me worried, unable to get the information they needed about their loved ones, worried about what the next step would be, whether there was PPE in the home where their loved ones had gone, how many cases of COVID there were in a nursing homes. This government was absent.
There are almost 100,000 older Australians waiting for home-care packages, and many of them are waiting for years to access the support they need. Older Australians in my community deserve better than this. Last year I held an aged-care forum in my community. So many constituents shared with me their stories of navigating a failing system. They shared with me the worry they have, not just for their own future but for the future of their parents. They told me that they don't want to be part of the system, that they are afraid of putting their parents into the aged-care system, that they are afraid that their parents are going to end up on a waiting list without the support they need to age in their own homes.
It's not good enough. We are failing older Australians. This government is failing older Australians. From the experience in my community, I can tell you that older Australians, their families and those of us who know that sometime soon we will be looking to support parents in aged care—we are worried about this, and we know that this government has not done its job. So I am fighting for the Morrison government to urgently fix our aged-care system, to provide more home-care packages and to provide older Australians with a secure future.
The Morrison government's plan to implement NDIS independent assessments has absolutely blindsided Australians with a disability. It is a betrayal of everything the NDIS stands for—the idea that people would not have to tell their story over and over again, the idea that people with disability would be looked at for what they can do in life and the support they need to lead a decent life. Instead, this government is reducing them to a tick-a-box assessment activity. I've heard from so many people with disability in my community, from the parents of children with disability and from disability providers in my community—all of them are worried about the proposal for independent assessments. They ask me how a person they've never met before can carry out a tick-a-box exercise on them and understand their complex needs. It can't be done. And, as I said, it goes against the very fundamentals of what the NDIS is meant to be about, which is personalised support for people with disability.
I urge this government to rethink the independent assessments. I urge this government to listen to participants, listen to their stories and listen to the experience of people who participated in the trial. I heard from one group that works with children with disability. They were telling me parents were really concerned about the way assessments on children who participated in the trial were carried out. They told me that it seemed as though there was the possibility that the way the assessment was done would reinforce for the child the sense that they were different and that they had a disability, rather than being the experience it should be, where children feel like they get the chance to lead the best possible life they can.
I heard from people with disability. One woman in my community spoke to me about her fears about independent assessment. She talked to me about how, for her, with her complex needs, retelling her story was one of her triggers. It was traumatising for her. She's worked for many years with specialist health professionals who know her, who know her disability and who know her needs. She has managed to, with that support, build a career for herself. But she told me of the times in her life when that fell apart. She is worried that she will now have to go to a situation where she has to retell her story, where she has to retraumatise herself by telling that story to someone with no understanding of the complexity of her needs, no understanding of what her life might be and no understanding of actually what the NDIS should be doing for her, which is allowing her to be a wonderful, productive member of our community.
This proposal is not supported by people with disability. It is not supported by their families. It's not supported by any of the providers that I've spoken to. It is supported by a government that doesn't get the NDIS, a government that's failed people with disability and that does see the NDIS as a tick-a-box exercise rather than something that empowers people with disability. It's not good enough. It shouldn't be rushed through. The government's conducted a tiny trial, as I understand it—not much consultation. Disability groups are saying it's not good enough. It's time for the government to listen to them, to make the NDIS achieve the promise that Labor set it out with—knowing that people with disability should be full members of our community and supporting them to be full members of our community. That's the promise the NDIS has. That's the promise we have to see realised from this government, because what is happening at the moment is not good enough.
I want to take the chance to wish everyone in the community of Jagajaga a happy and relaxing Easter. The last year has been one that we have never seen the likes of before. I've been reflecting on the fact that, at Easter time last year, my community was heading into lockdown for the first time. We certainly had no idea at that time what was ahead of us. I have been so proud to serve a community that has shown such resilience. They've looked out for each other and have done everything they can to keep jobs going and keep businesses going. There is a community full of wonderful healthcare workers at the Austin hospital, Banyule Community Health and healthAbility who have reached out and made many people's lives better in what has been such a difficult year since last Easter. So I hope that, for every family and every person in my community, this Easter is filled with chocolate, hot cross buns, love and family, and that they have a chance to celebrate what they have been able to endure over the past year and have a chance to reflect on the strength and resilience of our community. From me to you, happy Easter and thank you.
I too rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and cognate bill. There's no doubt that this year has been unprecedented. We've had a horrendous year with COVID hitting at approximately this time in Australia about a year ago, in early March. This pandemic is certainly a crisis like we have never seen before in our lifetime. It's not surprising that the 2020-21 MYEFO forecast shows a $197.7 billion deficit just this financial year, $456 billion in cumulative deficits over the forward estimates, and the list goes on. But it is worth noting that, in 2008, when we were hit with the financial global crisis, the coalition, then in opposition, criticised the Labor government for its spending to get Australia through that crisis. I have to say, I was here at the time and I recall very well what it took to get the then opposition over the line to support our measures to ensure that people didn't lose their jobs and that life went on as normal as could be.
The two are very different events, but it just shows the difference in the political parties. In this particular crisis, the Labor opposition was willing to support and help the government in every way we could, because we knew this was a crisis and we had to do everything to protect ourselves from both the health angle and the economic angle. Back then, during the global financial crisis, we were criticised, as I said. There was the debt truck. The Liberal opposition's truck was driving around every marginal seat, showing the debt et cetera. You see none of that from this side, and that's because we understand that good government needs to be able to protect its people, whether it be health or the economy. We have seen that many people have lost their jobs and have gone onto JobKeeper or JobSeeker, and many more are about to lose their jobs. Very soon, JobSeeker will be ending. What will happen to those people? What will happen to those people who still haven't gone back to work or whose industries have been decimated or don't exist because they had to shut down because of COVID-19? It is another measure of where we are and the difference between the two political parties that vie to govern this country.
I'm not here to score political points, but it's so important for Australia and Australians. We know that budgets are much more than just numbers; they are about priorities and the vision that governments may have for Australia, and, ultimately, they're about people and caring for people, ensuring that people have a job and can earn a decent wage—enough to pay their bills, put food on the table, pay their medical bills and send their children to school—and knowing that the government is protecting them from whatever it may be. We all know that this pandemic provides us with a unique situation and an opportunity to reset the agenda, to establish a fairer Australia for all. As Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, said in his budget reply speech—and we really do:
We have a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild our economy and our country for the better.
To launch a recovery that delivers a stronger, fairer and more secure future, for all Australians.
Unfortunately, I don't see too much evidence of that under the current government, especially when it comes to Australian workers and working families. Just in the last week of parliament, we saw the industrial relations bill put through which had a focus, from the very start, on diminishing wages for workers, diminishing workers rights and diminishing the opportunities to negotiate in a fair way for wage increases and the future of their workplace.
It is quite evident and clear, and we see it every time in every coalition government that's elected, that one of their priorities is to diminish workers rights. We see it over and over again. We saw it in 2007, under the Howard government. We saw it again, early on in the piece with Abbott, during his time in government. Now we're seeing it again—basically, Work Choices mark 2 has come out.
Let's face it, the Australian economy was already struggling before COVID. Under this government, Australia was already facing a jobs crisis, low productivity and low wage growth, including growing casualisation, insecure work, underemployment—in other words, people who were perhaps working part-time in one or two jobs who wanted full-time employment—stagnant wages, and falling skills and training levels. The pandemic has resulted in over 1.3 million Australians today surviving on unemployment benefits or some form of welfare payment, and that includes JobSeeker and youth allowance. Two million Australians are looking for work or looking for more work because they don't have enough hours to get by. And, as I said, at the end of the month—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Order! There's been a division called in the House. It being nearly 7.30, the debate is interrupted. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:22