House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Interests

3:15 pm

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

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

The failure of this Government to listen and act in the interests of Australians.

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

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

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

Well, after eight long years what we've seen over this last fortnight is a tired, stale government that's unravelling before our eyes, disintegrating before our eyes. There are real challenges before this country. The challenge of overcoming the pandemic. The challenge of overcoming the deep recession, insecure work, increased frequency of natural disasters, but what we have from this government is no agenda, no idea. It's just occupying the space. The whole obsession about political management—an accountability black hole. It's a government that doesn't believe that it should have to answer questions either here or in press conferences, a government that will never take responsibility. We have a Prime Minister who doesn't hold a hose and doesn't call an inquiry. There's no accountability when it comes to bushfires, when it comes to aged care—not even the reported sexual assault of Brittany Higgins just metres from the Prime Minister's office two years ago. We know that ministers knew. We know that members of his staff knew. We know that people in the parliamentary system knew. But what did we get from this Prime Minister? That he didn't know until the Monday in which the report became public, even though over that weekend his office was dealing with the media inquiries from news.com.au and The Project. The idea that this Prime Minister, who is an ultimate control freak, would not know what was going on over that weekend, as his office was preparing responses, is, quite frankly, just absurd.

We know also, with regard to the Attorney-General, that when documentation was given to him, he didn't even bother to read the complaint. He didn't bother to read the complaint. Then when we asked about his office's involvement he set up a review by his former chief of staff into what his current staff knew over that two-year period, the Gaetjens review. Then he misled parliament about it. When we asked clear questions he said that he hadn't received any update but he had. On 9 March he received the update that it had been suspended. It was a complete untruth, a complete and deliberate mislead before this parliament. But this Prime Minister had contempt for it.

Then, of course, we saw today, after two weeks of asking every single day for confirmation that what Brittany Higgins told the March 4 Justice outside, that the Prime Minister's office had sought to undermine her loved ones, he stonewalled for two weeks. He refused to answer the question. Then today guess what? He announced another review. This is about his own office. Why doesn't he just ask them? He's the Prime Minister of Australia and he can't ask his own chief of staff and his own office staff what is going on.

Then we know, around the alleged Eric Abetz comments, that he hasn't spoken to Eric Abetz. Don't ask, don't tell. The Network 10 revelations—he doesn't know anything at all. It's inappropriate. It's on the TV. It is being discussed around the country. That's how we know about it. Yet there are no answers from this government.

Then we have the idea that he's going to move aside the Attorney-General without any inquiry. He's going to use advice from the Solicitor-General about whether, because he's taking legal action, it's inappropriate that he shift to another portfolio, but he won't ask the Solicitor-General whether he's a fit and proper person to continue in the role. It is just absurd!

Then you get down to the reshuffle. We know they've lost a lot of senior people over the last few years, but you're going to have Senator Cash as Attorney-General! She refused to provide a formal statement to a police investigation about the fact that the media were given a heads-up to a police raid. She refused to cooperate with the police. You're going to put that person in charge of the legal system in this country. You're going to make her the first law officer of the land.

If that's not bad enough, you're going to move to home affairs the Minister for Government Services. This is the bloke who lost his ministerial job because when he was Assistant Minister for Defence he went to China on a privately funded business trip—and the Chinese government thought he was representing the government; he was the assistant defence minister—for a business deal that he had a pecuniary interest in. You're going to put him in charge of national security. You couldn't make this up.

This Prime Minister is an empathy vacuum. He wouldn't attend the March 4 Justice. In the train wreck of an interview when someone from Sky dared to ask a question he had the temerity to demand that women stand with him, rather than him standing with them. This is a Prime Minister who has an ear of tin, a heart of stone and a wall of concrete to shield him from the concerns of his fellow Australians. He is an angry man who has mastered the rare art of clenching a glass jaw. That's what this bloke has done.

When this Prime Minister leaves office Australians will ask themselves: 'What was the point of the government? Was it nothing but smoke and mirrors?' What's the big agenda? What's the productivity agenda? What's the social policy agenda? What are they doing to build back better? This Prime Minister used to ask, 'Whose side are you on?' We know whose side he's on—he's on his own side. We on this side of the House are on the side of the Australian people.

Over the coming months we will be saying: 'If you want a government that will use its time in power to make your life better and make Australia better, Labor is on your side. If you see this pandemic as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build back stronger, Labor is on your side. If you want secure, well-paid jobs, Labor is on your side. If you want child care fixed, because it would be good for families, good for children and good for our economy, Labor is on your side. If you want to embrace Australia's future as a renewable energy superpower, Labor is on your side. If you want Australians trained for the jobs of the future and you want a solution to the skills shortages that are holding back businesses, Labor is on your side. If you understand that aspiration means wanting your children to have a better life than you had, Labor is on your side. If you want the gender pay gap exposed and closed, Labor is on your side. If you want 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave, Labor is on your side. If you believe that older Australians deserve dignity and respect, Labor is on your side. If you want a future made in Australia, Labor is on your side. If you want the security of a superannuation system, Labor is on your side. If you think that government should have something to show for its time in power, whether it is Medicare, the NDIS, infrastructure investment, universal super, the National Broadband Network or paid parental leave, Labor is on your side. If you believe that we need a national integrity commission to restore confidence in our political system, Labor is on your side.'

We want an Australia where no-one is held back and no-one is left behind, an Australia that's inclusive, an Australia that's strong and an Australia that looks to the future with confidence. Australians want a government that doesn't just seek to manage the 24-hour media cycle. This is a government that's out of time and out of ideas. At the next election it should be out of office.

3:25 pm

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

If we're talking about political slogans, I think we're in no doubt what Labor's political slogan will be at the next election—and that's 'On your side'. Today's MPI is about the government listening to the Australian public, and I'm going to talk a lot today about the pandemic and how we listened about what we needed to do and also about people's jobs and what we needed to do. But it has also touched on a very important public discussion that started happening in our country five or six weeks ago now, starting with the allegations that Brittany Higgins made, and very tragic and sad they are. Given that the opposition leader did bring that issue up in the MPI debate, I do want to discuss. I think the best way it's been summarised I saw written the other day: this is not a girl or a woman thing. This is a boy and a man thing. This is not about our daughters. This is not about our wives. This is not about our grandmothers. This is about our sons, our mates, our fathers and our grandfathers. I think the Prime Minister articulated that very emotionally and in a very heartfelt way the other day.

Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I know that in a previous life you were a policeman. I'm sure in that role you would have been called to many domestic violence situations and many other situations that would have been quite horrific for you and obviously the victims involved in that. I think what has happened in this country over the past five or six weeks is a really important and a really necessary public discussion for us to have, because we need to get better. We need to get better not just in this building and within these workplaces; we need to get better in every workplace and in every household across this country. I think that's an important discussion. Obviously as a government here within this workplace and with other Commonwealth offices it will get better. There will be independent processes that can happen when allegations are made. But this is a very important discussion.

I have the great pleasure and great privilege to be the father of two daughters and a son. They all have, I think, the utmost potential to be anyone and anything they want to be, especially my daughters. I've always reinforced that to them. My youngest daughter did say that she sometimes socially does not feel safe. It is not okay when she's in certain places that that is the situation.

I do want to go on as well to talk about, besides this very important public conversation we've had over the last five or six weeks in this country, the fact that over the last 12 months the country has had a conversation about the pandemic and people's job security. That's been the most important thing they've wanted us to listen to them on. I think in this place it's really important that the institution of this chamber, the institution of the opposition and the institution of the press hold the government to account. I applaud the opposition when they hold us to account, when they point out failings or where they think we should do better things. But I'll tell you what: I think sometimes the opposition has to find a happy place. There are some really good things that have happened in this country and in this chamber that we have done on both the pandemic front and the economic front. But you wouldn't know that from the other side at all. They can never find a happy place. They can never say, 'We're doing okay here, but we want you to look there.' It's always an unhappy place with them. I think that's not necessarily healthy.

What have we been listening to? What we were listening to 12 months ago was the Australian public. Our public health officials, nurses and doctors were saying: 'You've got to flatten the curve. We are going to be in a bad place if you don't flatten the curve of this pandemic.' So what did we do? Through the goodwill of the Australian people, through good hand hygiene, social distancing, we did better than flatten the curve. You can't eliminate a virus but we've probably done better than any other country in the world in eliminating this one. We listened, we acted and, with the help of the Australian people, we did very well. We are now up to the vaccine rollout, which is an important part of this process as well.

Not everyone votes for me in my electorate; that probably doesn't surprise anybody! Many people I know are good people who vote for the Labor Party and the Greens and they have congratulated us as a government. They have said, 'You have done a good job. You did a good job on the health front. You have done a good job on the economy,' and they're grateful for that. That is important to acknowledge. Deloitte, a few months ago, said there is no better place in the world to be right now if you look at both the health statistics and economic statistics than Australia. A lot of that is on the goodwill of the Australian people.

Where are we up to with the pandemic? Again, it is not eliminated. You can't eliminate a virus as we see in any country. New Zealand has done very well but every now and then there will be an outbreak—things happen. But with the vaccine rollout, over 300,000 doses have been administered so far. Phase 1a was for those frontline workers, those who work in quarantine centres, or health officials who are exposed to people who have the virus or who will potentially be exposed to the virus and the elderly people in aged-care facilities who are vulnerable. Obviously, the older you are, if you get this virus, the more dangerous it is for you. We have rolled out phase 1a. Over 300,000 people have had that initial vaccine and now even the second dose of that is starting to roll out as well.

Just this week we have stepped into 1b, which is for people over 70 and other frontline health staff. There will be hiccups. We said at the start of this that you can't easily roll out a double vaccine dose for the number of Australians we have with the logistics that are involved with the vaccine being deep frozen. I know the minister next to me has been involved in this for regional Australia and I thank him for his great care and diligence in this part of the rollout. There will be hiccups along the way but so far so good. We are all about making sure Australians are safe.

Australians wanted us to listen. They were really worried. In fact, I would say, probably more Australians were telling me they were worried their job than they were about the virus at certain times during this pandemic. We are aware that eight out of 10 jobs are in the private sector and we have done many things to make sure we protect peoples' business confidence, consumer confidence to make sure they feel as though they have job security and faith in the future.

Business confidence and consumer confidence are up. Just in the last few weeks, Ray Morgan put out their business confidence survey. It was 16.2 points higher than a year ago in February 2020. It was at a multi-year high. Business confidence is higher than it was pre-pandemic. Consumer confidence is the same. Westpac Melbourne Institute was up to 111 in March. Again, it is higher than where it was pre-pandemic. A lot of this is on the back of the fact that we have managed the pandemic so well. Economically, we haven't been hit as hard as many other countries. We have all seen the news reports on countries in Europe, North America, just about every other continent that has been hit very hard on the health front and, therefore, damaged economically.

There has been great news on the jobs front. Just a week or so ago, we saw the unemployment rate fall from 6.3 per cent to 5.8 per cent. This outperformed everyone's projections—the RBA, any economist. Any professional economist who gets paid for a living trying to predict this stuff got it wrong. We are bouncing out of this quicker than what they would have thought. We on this side are being flexible with this too.

The other side have made a lot about JobKeeper more recently. JobKeeper was always temporary. When we initiated it last March/April we designed it to run off in September. Last September, it was obvious that was too early. The economy was vulnerable. There were a lot of people who still couldn't open up and get their businesses back to where they wanted to be, so we extended it and we extended it until the end of March.

This is not a vacuum. While JobKeeper is rolling off, there are lots of other things out there, like the apprenticeship scheme and the job hire making credit. We're going to adjust that because we want that to do better than it is. But there are still a lot of other incentives out there for people to employ. The biggest issue—and it's been anecdotally in my region now for probably six months or so—that small businesses have in my community is they can't get enough staff. So we feel that the economy now has the capability to deal with this. We'll see how that goes, and, if we need to be more flexible or adjust what we're doing, we will. Again, the jobs figures last week surprised everyone and were extremely important. This hasn't happened by mistake. This has happened because the budget we did last year and the stimulus packages we initiated earlier in the year have all been about peoples' jobs and job security and making sure our economy got through this.

3:35 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the deputy leader and member for Corio for letting me push in ahead of him. We are facing a moment in history in Australia. We saw 110,000 women march and we saw 135,000 women sign a petition demanding change in this country. The question is: Are we up to it as a nation? Do we have a government that is up to it? Do we have a Prime Minister who is up to it? This moment in our history could be the time when we change fundamentally to be a country where women feel safe on our streets, in our homes, in our workplaces. We could change now to be a country where women feel valued for their intellect, for their capacity, for their hard work, not their thigh gap. We could change now to be a country where every woman—and every man too—has the opportunity of living freely, of living free of gender stereotypes that are toxic not just for women but also for men. We want every Australian to have the opportunity of living the life that they wish, free from these constraints. We could do that now as a nation. The question is: Are we up to it? Are we up to it as a parliament to show the leadership that is necessary to win that change? Will those women marching, those women signing petitions lead to permanent change, or will it be a temporary inconvenience to be managed away like every other political problem that this government faces?

I thought when I saw the Prime Minister's press conference earlier this week that he started so well. He actually sounded like he'd finally got it. He was repeating back to us, as we were listening, the things that he'd heard from women—I don't know; maybe women in his family, in his office, in his social networks—and the frustrations that so many women feel. Then, 10 minutes into the press conference, because he got a question from a journalist, he just lost it again and made us think: Was it all an act? Were the tears all an act?

The tragedy for Australian women today is, if we started crying about the women we know who have been raped and murdered and sexually assaulted and sexually harassed, if we started crying for the women that we know that this has happened to, we would never stop. We would never stop. I remember the names of Anita Cobby and Janine Balding, the women who were abducted and raped and tortured and murdered when I was growing up. I remember their names. They have always stayed with me. I remember Eurydice Dixon and I remember Hannah Clarke. I remember all these women. We all do. It takes more than tears. It takes legislative change. It takes culture change. It takes working with our young people from their earliest days. Why is sexual violence one of the few categories of violent crime that's actually increasing in our community? Despite everything we know, despite the truth that brave women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and Saxon Mullins are getting up and telling in their own words, sexual violence is one of the violent crime categories that's increasing. It's increasing particularly amongst young people. We have failed as a parliament and as a community when we see increasing rates of sexual assault. We know that the system is completely stacked against victims of sexual assault in this country. We know that about one in 10 report and we know that, of that one in 10 that do report, about two per cent see a guilty conviction. That is a broken legal system. It's a broken society that allows it to happen in the first place. It is a broken legal system that prevents victims of these violent crimes achieving justice. As a parliament, as a society, as parents, we need to do better.

3:40 pm

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

It seems that the place of discussion has just shifted from the government and where the Leader of the Opposition was to a different subject altogether. I will just identify with the parts of the member for Sydney's address that we would all identify with. It's why I have put forward a couple of positive proposals to the Prime Minister for the executive to consider.

There were a number of other things said today which were rather important. One was: you couldn't be in a better place today than in this nation. You couldn't be in a better place for your health and wellbeing, for your family's health and wellbeing and for your business's health and wellbeing, even though in the next few weeks we are going to face some diabolical times for small business—anybody who thinks that's not going to happen is just fooling themselves.

If you want to know what's important, it's that this government, on the COVID response, was on your side. This government, in response to health issues that have arisen, was on your side—was on the peoples' side. This government, as noted by the health minister today in his response to one family and that particular illness, was on your side. If you want to talk about how we responded to small businesses in trouble right across the nation—every one of them—this government was on your side. If you want to talk about flood response: we have learned the lessons and this government is on your side. If you want to remember the drought response for rural Australia: this government was on your side. Every time, this government was thinking about the people of Australia first, because that's our role. That's our role: putting the people first.

I was disappointed with the Leader of the Opposition. He came in and talked about all the issues that affect us here in the parliamentary bubble. This is not a Canberra bubble. This is a parliamentary bubble. I am pretty sure that the people of Canberra are not really impressed every time a politician gets up in this place and talks about the Canberra bubble. That might mean something in rural and regional Australia and perhaps in other capital cities but this is a parliamentary bubble. It's the disgust of what has happened in this place, which was revealed in the last week—and there will probably be more. Is there more hanging around out there for us, every one of us, all to be belted with? Is every one of us standing in slime in this place, in this green room—no pun intended? There was a tiny bit of hilarity today because Minister Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, talked about some money going into arts and entertainment, and what happened? The whole room grabbed for that moment when we could think about something great for a minute, instead of where we have been sloshing around. There's more money to go to there. I tell the arts industry: we're on your side. I tell the entertainment industry: this government is on your side. But, more importantly, people like travel agents: we're on your side. People like travel agents have just had some more money, and we will concentrate and we will try for them and, if we can do more, we will. But we're on their side.

Mrs Phillips interjecting

What you should be listening to is this: you have never put forward one concrete contribution or idea about how you might do the job on their behalf. Not one! Ask your shadow Treasurer. Not one, because it's a difficult issue. When you're in government and you're on their side, there are difficult issues to decide.

As I finish, it's great to have so many of my colleagues here to support me as I address the House on this last day of this sitting. I would like to thank each and every one of you very much. It's great to have you here, and I look forward to your engagement again when we come back after the break for budget week. (Time expired)

3:46 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

At this time, in this moment, Australia needs a government that will take responsibility and a government that will lead. But what the beginning of the parliamentary year has revealed is that, instead, we have an eight-year-old, tired, deflated, worn-out, broken wheel. This government is literally limping along a road while other countries are taking off into a post-COVID future.

When the remarkable Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year earlier this year and inspired Brittany Higgins's extraordinary expression of courage in telling her story, it has unleashed and unfolded a conversation in this country unlike any that I've experienced in my lifetime. It is one which asks us to think about the gender relations of our society, one which asks us to reaffirm the status of women in Australia—for women to be believed, and for women to have the right to be respected and be safe at home and at work. That conversation was always going to have the Prime Minister as being central to it. He is the most senior person in the country, yet it's as if he didn't hear a word of it because, whenever the Prime Minister has opened his mouth, he has completely missed the mark.

When Brittany Higgins made her allegations, the Prime Minister sought to defend the position that an alleged rape that took place just metres from his office two years ago was not made known to his office until February of this year. That just can't be right. That is not true, because, everybody in this building, on both sides of the parliament, knows that there is a human resources function which exists in the Prime Minister's office on behalf of all ministerial staff. That's exactly why Peta Credlin and Malcolm Turnbull, two people who know a little bit about how prime ministers' offices work, have said that that claim beggars belief. But, when the Prime Minister made that claim, what he really said to the country was that, rather than dealing with the issue, he was going to seek to politically manage the issue. When serious allegations were made in respect of the Attorney-General, the obvious step to take was to put in place an independent inquiry to remove the shadow hanging over the first law officer of the nation and also, given the tragedy of the circumstances, to allow the serious allegations that had been made to be properly explored. But this government was never going to allow that kind of scrutiny to apply to this Prime Minister and this government. Then we saw the defence minister respond to Brittany Higgins and her allegations by making a terrible character attack.

Where that leaves us on this day is with two ministers hanging by a thread, a reshuffle which is about to occur and thousands of public servants in important departments like Attorney-General's and Defence without the foggiest idea of what this government is actually on about. And all of this is occurring while there are a million people on JobKeeper and when, three days from now, that benefit is going to be removed. Treasury is saying that up to 150,000 people are going to lose their jobs in three days time, and all that those people hear from this government is boasting and arrogance. What's in its place is the much-touted wage subsidy program, JobMaker, which the government said would support 450,000 jobs. Well, on this day it's 609. Then there are the vaccinations, which the government rightly says are the key to getting us past this crisis, to having a sustained and permanent recovery. They said there would be four million Australians vaccinated in this month. We have six days to go and with six days to go, this government is 3.7 million shy of its four million target. If this government has one job this year it is to vaccinate Australia. Right now, this government is horribly behind in the single most important job that it has this year.

This is a government which is completely at sea. You might say it's lost its way but the truth is it never had a way at the start. What we need to see is a Prime Minister who sits in this chair and speaks for the Australian people rather than wallowing in the politics of the day. We need a Prime Minister who sits in this chair and is a statesman rather than just a political hack.

3:51 pm

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

It is a pleasure to rise and speak on this matter of public importance because it gives me the opportunity to say how proud I am to be part of a government that is representing all Australians and is there to give opportunity for all Australians because that's what this side of the House is about. Particularly as we come out of the COVID-19 recession, we want to create more jobs and more opportunity for Australian families and that's something that I care deeply about.

With JobKeeper coming to an end, it is worth reflecting on this remarkable program. Who would have thought that just 12 months ago that we would be here with the opportunity to roll out a vaccine, with the JobKeeper program coming to an end after getting to the point where there are more jobs now than there was at the beginning of the pandemic—absolutely extraordinary! There is plenty of naysayers on that side of the chamber, on the Labor side, who didn't think that JobKeeper would work. They're now calling for it to be extended. But at the time it was this government that backed in Australians with a remarkable package, a record package of support, that was specifically targeted to keep Australians connected to their workplaces, to keep Australians in jobs.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

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

I hear the interjections from those on the other side of the chamber. They like to claim credit but it simply wasn't true. They had a bob each way, as they do in so many things when it comes to this place. They pretend to support it and then they go outside and undermine it. We see exactly what the Labor members are doing when they speak out of both sides of their mouths when is it comes to the vaccine rollout. They say it is so important and they back the government in making sure every Australian is vaccinated and then they come in this place or they get on Sky News and seek to undermine the rollout and seek to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of Australians. It is such a disappointment. I do not understand why on this, of all issues, the vaccination against COVID-19 for the Australian population, the Labor MPs can't be firmly on team Australia. Even on that very simple topic, you would think would be straightforward to support the government to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine. But not even then can the Labor MPs bring themselves to not politicise such an important issue. It is a great shame. It says everything you need to know about how the Labor MPs have responded to this COVID-19 crisis.

What a contrast those opposite are compared to this government, which has firmly backed all Australians, which acted decisively and quickly. It got behind Australians in a way that has created more jobs now than at the start of the pandemic and is now giving all those families opportunity. It is not just creating jobs. We know that business confidence is at its highest levels in 11 years despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment is down to 5.8 per cent. The comeback is well and truly on and it just goes to show that you would rather be living in Australia now than anywhere else in the world. We can be incredibly proud as Australians. All Australians can be proud of what they have achieved during this pandemic because it is something that virtually nowhere else in the world has been able to achieve. It is a record of significance that they should be proud of and that they have achieved together by working together and by taking advantage of the significant support programs that this government has implemented.

But it's not just the COVID-19 pandemic where this government is backing Australians in. We've guaranteed funding and committed to invest $315 billion in schools over the next decade. To put that into context: it will increase the average funding per student by 60 per cent over the decade. More generally: in health, we now preside over a far more successful bulk-billing scheme. The bulk-billing rate was over 87 per cent in 2019-20, up from 82 per cent in 2012-13, which was Labor's last year in government, and nearly 143 million free GP services were delivered last year, 39 million more than in Labor's last year.

We're presiding over record spending on infrastructure, particularly on urban infrastructure, which is creating jobs and helping to reduce congestion so that people can get home to their families sooner and safer. There's $110 billion in the pipeline over 10 years to invest in infrastructure, including for major highways, busting open congestion, and to make public transport better so that we can back in all Australians and create jobs and opportunities for families. We are firmly on Team Australia and we are firmly on the side of ordinary Australians, unlike the Labor MPs opposite.

3:56 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

When this government cuts JobKeeper this weekend it will mark its final transition from 'all in this together' to 'you're all on your own'. Those opposite see a moment in time when government was part of ensuring that we looked out for each other and looked after each other, and they see it as some kind of aberration—some kind of brief interlude and some kind of historical oddity—to be quickly forgotten. To those opposite, 'all in this together' was only ever a political platitude plucked from a poll, or from the pages of a focus group report, not the defining principle behind a country and a people who have done so much to stick by each other in the most difficult recent times. The problem is that this government is psychologically and temperamentally incapable of understanding the struggle of 1.1 million Australians who are still on JobKeeper, or the two million Australians who either can't find a job or can't find enough hours to support their loved ones. They have absolutely no idea what it's like for the 100,000 to 150,000 Australians who the Treasury has told the government it expects will lose their jobs when the Prime Minister and the Treasurer cut JobKeeper this weekend.

We know from reports out of the coalition party room that the Treasurer sees hundreds of thousands of Australians and their fears and anxieties about job losses as a political challenge to be managed—something to try to spin and grin away in this tsunami of self congratulation that the government engages in every day in this place. This is a government which is long on self regard and short on empathy; long on announcement and short on delivery. Each day when we ask the Treasurer about the Australians who are still doing it tough, we get a lecture about the Australians who have, in his words, 'graduated' from JobKeeper.

But we're not asking the Treasurer about the unemployment rate. We're not asking him about numbers on a page and we're not asking him about how many Australians are no longer on JobKeeper. We're asking him to understand that more than a million people are still on JobKeeper and when it's cut this has consequences for their ability to provide for their families. We're asking him to understand that every dollar wasted on companies that don't need JobKeeper means a dollar that can't go to the small businesses and workers who still need it. We're asking him to understand that this recession is not yet over for every single Australian.

But they don't understand the human consequences of cutting support for a million Australians and all those businesses which employ them, or the anxiety that comes from not knowing whether people's jobs will hit the fence. If announcements, press conferences and photo opportunities were jobs then we'd be fine. Instead, we have this weapons-grade incompetence which is threatening our recovery from recession. Only 609 jobs have been delivered out of the 450,000 that the Treasurer promised in his hiring credits program. There was a $60 billion error in the JobKeeper program and all this money was sprayed around to the Gerry Harveys of this world, who don't need it. We have a vaccination promise that is at least 90 per cent short of its target this month. One of the justifications for cutting JobKeeper was four million vaccinations that won't happen this month. They can't even get flood mitigation money out the door—two years after it was announced. This is a pattern of behaviour: the big announcement, the self-congratulation and the diabolical policy failure.

Yes, the economy's recovering; yes, we want jobs created; and, when they are, we say so. But the economy is hostage to a lot of uncertainty, and not just any recovery is befitting the sacrifices that Australians have made for each other. What kind of recovery matters to the small businesses, workers, families and communities of this country? We need better than more of the same wage stagnation that we had before. We need more than a recovery where the weakest are singled out and sacrificed, and the strongest are subsidised. We owe Australians more, and better, than this. We owe them an economy, a country, that is stronger after COVID than it was before—a future made in Australia, where we teach and train our people to keep up with technological change; cleaner and cheaper energy; cheaper and more accessible child care; and decent aged care for more of our older people. We owe them a recovery that is worthy of Australians and the sacrifices they have made in this recession and in its aftermath.

4:01 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not a day goes by when I do not field calls and emails from my constituents on a whole range of issues. From immigration to Centrelink, from foreign affairs to the state of our local parks and roads, as a member of parliament I hear it all. Of course, the past year has been dominated by COVID-19. Tragically, lives have been lost and livelihoods have been ruined across the world. In Australia it has been far from easy. But, fortunately, this government's strong management of the virus has limited the human toll compared to other developed nations around the world. The Morrison government is spending over $21 billion on COVID-19 specific health measures and securing over 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. This is in addition to investing in new sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability at CSL in Melbourne. A record $131.4 billion in public hospital funding has been guaranteed through a new five-year deal.

But we know that the pandemic has been not only a major health crisis but an economic crisis too. I have heard the calls and read the emails for help from individuals and businesses affected by COVID. When they asked, the Morrison government responded. When my constituents said they would need targeted income support, the Morrison government committed unprecedented support to save lives, cushion the blow and help Australians remain in jobs. JobKeeper supported over one million businesses and over 3.8 million jobs.

But that's not all. The cashflow boost has already provided $35 billion in payments helping over 800,000 small and medium sized businesses to stay afloat. The Morrison government is also acting in the interests of Australian apprentices and trainees by providing a 50 per cent wage subsidy supporting around 180,000 apprentices and trainees. This is in addition to 320,000 JobTrainer places for school leavers and jobseekers to upskill. But that's not all. Australians who want to get ahead and get a home are also being supported through the HomeBuilder program. This is supporting the residential construction industry, creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

There are some Australians who have needed an additional hand-up during the difficult times, and this government has listened to them. The coronavirus supplement provided extra support for those on JobKeeper. While that supplement has now tapered off, as it was always going to, the Morrison government has provided a permanent increase to the rate of JobSeeker. This is the most substantial increase since the 1980s. Without JobKeeper and other measures to support our economy, the Treasury estimates that the unemployment rate would have been five percentage points higher. We must remember that the government was able to act in the interests of Australians thanks to our strong economic management before the pandemic. In the 2018-19 budget period, the Morrison government brought the budget back to balance for the first time in 11 years and maintained our AAA credit rating.

Phil Gilbert Motor Group employs 180 people across the inner west of Sydney, and it's in my electorate, in Croydon. In September of last year they graduated off JobKeeper, because the business picked up again, and have since employed 12 new apprentices, supported by the government's program. Edwina Gilbert recently hosted Minister Cash, the Prime Minister and I and showed us around one of her service centres. It was great to see firsthand how the Morrison government is listening and acting in the interests of all Australians,

The Morrison government is also investing in creating more STEM opportunities for Australian women. Up to 600 Australian women will be encouraged to study science, technology, engineering and maths while they are working as part of the expansion of the Morrison government's Women in Stem Cadetship and Advanced Apprenticeship Program. The program provides grants to higher education providers to deliver a range of qualifications that employees can take part time alongside their studies. The Australian people speak. Members of parliament listen. And the Morrison government acts.

4:06 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

For weeks we've seen a government paralysed by a scandal and by their incompetence. We've seen a Prime Minister completely incapable of listening to—let alone understanding, let alone responding to in a meaningful way—the loud and clear calls from the Australian community, particularly Australian women, for real and meaningful changes to the way in which women are treated in this country by men, most notably, because of the cases that have been published in the media, how women are treated by men in this building but, more broadly, how they're treated in Australian workplaces across the country and in the broader community. It's clear that the Prime Minister just doesn't get it. In and of itself, that is bad enough. But in the meantime this tired, eight-year-old government—whose frontbench, frankly, redefines the term 'mediocrity'—is completely incapable, is paralysed, in addressing some profound challenges that are facing this country. My colleagues have talked about emergency management. They've talked about jobs and the cliff facing a million people who are facing the end of JobKeeper this weekend.

But there is no challenge more important right now than the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. We've supported the government's vaccine rollout strategy. We've supported the longer time that the TGA took to approve the COVID vaccines than was taken in some of the Northern Hemisphere countries that are facing emergencies that, thankfully, we are not. We've been united in that support for the role of the TGA—in contrast, frankly, to those opposite, who continue to have breakouts, including, most recently, a breakout from a member of the Senate leadership team in the coalition about whether or not the TGA is the final word on these issues. We support the strategy. But we will say, as so many are around the country, that this rollout is too slow, and the government is too complacent about this. The rollout, and its speed and effectiveness, is directly related to the strength of our economic recovery. That's why the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said, in relation to the slowness of the rollout, that it's 'depressing'. AiG said, 'The risk for Australia is that we get left behind as our competitors steal a march on us because the rest of the world is going so much more quickly than Australia.'

Australians remember that the Prime Minister very boldly committed to four million vaccinations by the end of this month—by the end of March. He then said, 'Oh, it might be early April.' Then he said, 'Oh, it might be late April.' Then he completely dropped the four million commitment altogether; he doesn't talk about that anymore. He put in place another commitment, of six million vaccinations by 10 May and 11 million vaccinations by the end of May. I think we all pray that at least he does better on that than he's done on his March commitment. In the past few weeks he again said, 'We will get this done by October; the country will be fully vaccinated by October.'

So, where are we today? Well, around the world we've seen almost half a billion vaccinations, as of today—486 million vaccinations. The US is up to 130 million vaccinations, going at three million per day. The UK is up at over 31 million vaccinations, going at 750,000 per day. Twice what we have managed in five weeks, they are doing every single day. Tomorrow, at the end of week five of the vaccine rollout strategy, we will be at about 400,000 vaccinations, 10 per cent of the commitment the Prime Minister made. The Prime Minister has blamed Italy. They shut down 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were supposed to come to Australia. He said it's Italy's fault and Europe's fault we haven't done better on the commitment of four million vaccinations. Everyone knows we've had 1.3 million doses in this country for days, and still we've only managed to roll out less than one third of the doses that have been in this country for days.

The rollout of the booking system was utter chaos. The GPs listed on that were not told beforehand that they were going to be listed. Receptionists were completely inundated by patients who were desperate to get into a booking system. But GPs knew they were getting only 50 doses per week. They had no idea what they were getting in the out weeks. How are you supposed to have a booking schedule when you don't know how many doses you are going to get? The scale of this challenge is huge. The government is way behind schedule. The strength of our economic recovery depends upon the rollout. Instead of all hands to the wheel in making sure that this works, we've got a government distracted and paralysed by scandal and their incompetence.

4:11 pm

Garth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Reading today's MPI I can't help but feel that the Labor Party have very short memories. Before I go there, I acknowledge there are so many issues across the Australian experience where there is much work to be done, but that is why I am here—to work to improve this great nation of ours. That's why we're all here. It's with great humility that I approach my day's labours in the House. It's with great humility that I accept the charge of leading my community in this House. We all do.

Australia is a textbook case on how to recover from a global pandemic, how to keep people safe and how to create a safety net for those who are vulnerable. The theme of the last year has been that we are all in this together. But today the Labor Party have shown that they are not. They seek to condemn a government that's held tight the line between pandemic and chaos. They've forgotten the challenges Australia has faced. They've forgotten about keeping people safe. They've forgotten about how hard it can be to rebuild our community and to rebuild our economy. They have short memories.

Australia's economic comeback is well underway. The global pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges this country has faced this century. The potential of this nation to face double-digit unemployment was real. That chaos was upon us. The wolf was at the door. Today we should be acknowledging the hard work of the Australian people in preventing that. We should be acknowledging the Australian government for listening to the Australian people and acting in the best interests of the people that we serve. There is much to do, but this government has shown its ability to work for the people of Australia and to be the government that they need in a time of crisis.

As we sit here today, out in the real world many sectors of our economy are already bouncing back. This is evidenced by Australia's economic growth of 3.1 per cent in the December quarter, which followed a 3.4 per cent rise in September. Our nation has turned the corner, and we should be very, very proud of our economic recovery. We should acknowledge the unprecedented turnaround as, for the first time in our nation's history, we have seen two consecutive quarters of economic growth more than three per cent. That's a significant landmark in Australia's history. How good is it, too, that the evidence shows the real economy has recovered around 85 per cent of the fall since the start of the pandemic? Australians are returning to work because of our economic turnaround. This is a very, very good thing. Ninety-four per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who lost their jobs or who saw their working hours reduced to zero are now back at work.

I want to place on the record the thanks from my community to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the whole Morrison government for their work over the past 12 months in keeping Australia safe. I extend that thanks to the premiers for working hard to keep their states safe too through working together under the new national cabinet.

In our Toowoomba region the evidence of our recovery is being felt on the ground, with a real sense of confidence and optimism for our future. Last week I visited Homestyle Bake in Toowoomba, a locally owned and operated bakery which has flourished in our region for 32 years. The directors of Homestyle Bake are about to undertake a significant investment in their Harristown factory by upgrading their bread line. This investment will double their output and unlock new business opportunities for the future—an investment they simply would not be making if they did not feel confident of our economic recovery.

It's a recovery that's been carefully built through our COVID-19 economic support measures, like JobKeeper, which supported 4,700 businesses in my region through the turbulence of 2020. The evidence shows that local businesses are starting to employ again and starting to grow again. I turn again to the Finch Cafe, which is now opening a second store, only months into our recovery. This is fantastic news. Our Toowoomba region has seen 846 apprentices registered through the Morrison government's wage subsidy program. These are young people entering the workforce at a crucial time in their lives, making sure that they set themselves up for a career. This is fantastic news for our region, and this is evidence that local employers are feeling confident enough to expand their teams, to invest time in the young people of our region and grow the skills pipeline in our region for important future projects like Inland Rail. Many of these apprenticeships will be in the construction sector which is going gangbusters in the Toowoomba region off the back of our HomeBuilder scheme, which has done so much for our region and which has been so well received by Toowoomba's construction industry.

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

The discussion has concluded.