Thursday, 25 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
The original question was that these bills be now read a second time. To this the member for Kingsford Smith has moved as an amendment to the main bill that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
by leave—I'll continue where I left off last night, when there was a division in the House of Representatives and the Federation Chamber was adjourned. I was talking about jobs and jobs creation, and the industrial relations bill from this government and how it would be detrimental to our economy. I say so because, as I said last night, to very quickly recap, it would make it harder for people to negotiate their EBAs at work; it would lower wages, in fact; and it would obviously give us a two-tier system.
This is not the way to go whilst we have the coronavirus crisis taking place, which has devastated the economy. What we need to do is ensure that we do get some wage growth and better productivity and that there is money in workers' pockets so they can spend. We know, when there's money available at the lower income end, that money goes straight back into the economy. We know, if you give someone who is on a very low wage an extra $30, $50 or $100, it will go into necessities that are required—for example, buying shoes, which you've put off doing for a long time because you can't afford it, or getting the washing machine that you need because your current one has broken down. This will grow the economy, and we should be looking at ways of putting money in the pockets of lower-end-income earners and those who perhaps can't afford the things that high-income earners can afford.
This particular budget was an experiment in subsidising big business to create demand. That was according to Michael Pascoe, who reported this in The New Daily. Of course we want businesses to thrive, of course we want them to succeed and grow, and I understand how vitally important they are to our economy. However, businesses cannot succeed if people do not have enough money in their pockets, after they've paid for the essentials, to spend on goods and services.
Australians deserve to have a government on their side, and they would get exactly that under Labor. We heard the Leader of the Opposition speak about a plan focusing on delivering jobs, good, secure jobs, with fair pay and conditions. And we on this side of the House certainly would not be cutting penalty rates or trying to introduce legislation that makes it easier for employers to keep their employees in precarious or casual employment, let alone making it harder for employees to take action against wage theft. Over the last few years, we've seen some horrendous stories of systematic wage theft by some of the biggest multinationals that operate in this country. There are things the government has tried to introduce through industrial relations legislation that make it harder to take action against wage theft and puts employees in precarious or casual employment.
We on this side of the House have a clear plan for secure, fairly paid jobs. We will make job security an object of the Fair Work Act of 2009 so that it becomes the core focus for the Fair Work Commission's decisions. The Leader of the Opposition also spoke about extending the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include employee-like forms of work, allowing it to better protect people in new forms of work, like app-based gig work, from exploitation and dangerous working conditions. We've seen an explosion of these jobs in the last few years, where they're paid very little. They barely make the minimum wage and they're put in dangerous situations—riding bikes in traffic et cetera. On this side, we will be legislating for a fair, objective test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual so that people have a clearer pathway to permanent work, and also to limit the number of consecutive fixed term contracts an employer can offer for the same role with an overall cap of 24 months.
Fixed term contracts and casual work are to the detriment of the economy because, if you are a casual worker, it is difficult to get a loan; it is difficult to make arrangements for the future—even though some of these casual jobs are ongoing and contracts are renewed from three-monthly terms onwards. So we would look at ways of making those jobs permanent after a period of time. We'd also work with the state and territory governments, the unions and industry to develop portable entitlement schemes for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for Australians in insecure work.
The government also has no plan to help working families and especially boost women's workforce participation. We do, though, through the working family childcare boost that was announced a few months ago by the member for Kingston and the Leader of the Opposition. The plan is to scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap, which often sees women losing money from an extra day's work. We will also lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent and increase childcare subsidy rates and taper them for every family earning less than $550,000. This will result in around 97 per cent of families in the system saving between $600 and $2,900 a year, with no family being worse off.
When you are in an economic crisis, one of the other areas of importance is infrastructure. Infrastructure is an important lever for the economy, and, as we saw in the global financial crisis, massive infrastructure ensured that we got the economy going. Yet my constituents in the western suburbs of my electorate will be facing another 15 years of uncertainty and delays before the South Road upgrade is completed.
Back in 2013, the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, pledged to upgrade South Road within a decade—and that was an election promise. Documents leaked last year by members of the state Liberal government in South Australia show that the South Road upgrade may not be completed until possibly 2035. We need that money to be pumped into infrastructure today, now, to create jobs and to get the infrastructure that's needed for the future. That leak that came from the state Liberal Party members in South Australia shows that this road will be completed over a decade later than was originally promised by the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, in 2013. Not only does this mean continued uncertainty for businesses and residents along South Road, at a time when business confidence is at an all-time low, but also it delays the creation, as I said, of much-needed jobs and the input of money into the economy in South Australia, my own state, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at the moment. So it's desperately needed that they start work on this infrastructure project as soon as possible, to keep the economy going and give certainty to those residents in those suburbs all along South Road—like Mile End, Thebarton and Torrensville—that need the infrastructure. We need these jobs now, not in 15 years, and we need the infrastructure now, not in 15 years.
We know that putting money into infrastructure creates jobs and helps the economy, and we're not doing enough of it. We are not seeing the projects that are required. For example, the Main North Road intersection in my electorate at Medindie is a bottleneck. Back in 2016 we were promised that this would be fixed, yet nothing has started, no plans are in place—there is absolutely no focus on when it will be done. I get calls every day in my electorate office about that intersection and the bottleneck that it causes. It can take anything up to 30 minutes just to get out of that particular bottleneck to reach the next stage, which is half a kilometre away. We need it fixed now. The residents of Adelaide—especially in the suburbs of Prospect, Medindie, Walkerville and Sefton Park—want it fixed immediately. We need this infrastructure. As I've said, the infrastructure that we create creates jobs, helps the economy and ensures that people have a smoother ride when they are driving their cars in traffic et cetera.
We are a country that punches well above its weight in so many things. We traditionally finish in the top five at the Olympics despite being so much smaller than our competition. We invented wi-fi, the black box, spray-on skin and the cochlear implant. We are world leaders in mining and sub-sea oil and gas. We have handled the COVID crisis better than most in the world. In World War II, we made the Boomerang fighter aircraft, and just now it is Australia that is leading the world in autonomous aircraft with the Loyal Wingman. So why is it that we are so doubtful about the potential of our defence industry and our own capability? We are competitive with other nations on so many other things. We have the skills, the resources and the thirst for work, but the simple fact is: we as a nation don't back ourselves in our defence industry. The Australian Defence Force is a fantastic customer of the global defence industry supply chain, but why can't we, Australia, be its primary supplier instead?
This was the crux of a conversation I had recently with a successful Australian defence industry business. They're doing well, participating in some major international defence projects which benefit our ADF but are largely for foreign primes and overseas forces, but they have the capacity to do so much more. In my discussions with the defence industry more broadly, I'm told the same thing time and time again: they look for export tenders and contracts overseas in order to be deemed 'legit' by our own Department of Defence; at the same time, they are fighting for those overseas contracts with one hand tied behind their back, because they can't point to contracts with our own ADF. We need a paradigm shift. We need our government and the Department of Defence to back our Australian defence industry businesses as a necessary and important strategic capability right up there with our naval, land and air platforms themselves. While this means taking on the risk that comes with fostering local companies, we can embrace the reward. We know full well that equipment designed and built overseas presents many other risks in any event. Ultimately, we—our government—need to back ourselves. Already, through the COVID-19 pandemic, not only have we been well down the list when it comes to sourcing PPE and commencing our vaccine rollout; we've been victims of vaccine nationalism, where countries have prioritised their own interests over their international export contracts. Why would we expect this to be any different in a conflict situation?
The Aussie spirit of mateship is alive and well in our defence industry and beyond. When we need something to happen, we pull together to make it so. We saw this during the response to the bushfires of Christmas 2019, when HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide were deployed to the New South Wales South Coast fully stocked in a matter of hours due to the fact that local companies pulled together to get it done. We know that we can do what's needed when it's required, and this is the mindset we need for all of our defence industry projects. Australian defence companies don't want to be just building to spec parts off a ship blueprint that was developed decades prior or that came from overseas. There's no strategic or sovereign capability development in that. In fact, it leads us to use old and obsolete technology and to a deskilling of our industrial base. We should instead be commissioning Australian companies on an outcomes basis. If we need something for our defence kit, Australian companies should have the opportunity to put forward unique solutions. This provides the opportunity for research, development and innovation in the sector. In order to enable this, the Commonwealth must have skin in the game. It's not enough to put a contract out to tender and let international prime companies get away with 'best-endeavour' provisions, advising that Australian companies don't have the capacity or capability to undertake specific work and favouring existing, often international, supply chains.
The Australian defence industry needs to be enabled by the Commonwealth. From the Minister for Defence down, there must be a new approach. The 'A' in AIC should be about homegrown, Australian owned, Australian registered businesses. The 'C' in AIC must truly be about our sovereign capability, not just content, which, under the current government's guidelines, could mean hotels, travel agents and language classes just as easily as it could mean building ships and designing new technology.
That means that building and developing things here in Australia should be our priority. If we don't have the specific capability here, we must nurture and build that capability strategically. We must develop and foster our current mid-tier defence industry businesses from which we can grow Indigenous prime defence contractors. There is no reason that Australia can't be a world leader in defence manufacturing. If undertaken effectively, homegrown prime defence contractors will be enabled to take the lead on projects—no longer simply subcontracting to foreign lead contractors; rather, working directly with Defence to provide new capabilities and platforms to our ADF.
Similarly, we should be using Australians in all future shipbuilding programs, not just in shipbuilding labour but also in the design, engineering, drafting and integration work. A good start to that would be providing certainty for shipbuilding workers in Osborne and Henderson, who have been waiting with bated breath since December 2019 for an answer about the location where full-cycle docking work will occur for our Collins class submarines. This government has torpedoed any hopes that those workers had of certainty this week, when it yet again fluffed its way through Senate estimates, refusing to give any real answers on anything. Ultimately, it is vital that we continually invest in the development of our industry and our overall capability here at home—something that, at this rate, the government seems more interested in sinking—be it in Western Australia, South Australia or elsewhere across the country.
The government and Naval Group confirmed this week that a revised strategic partnership agreement has finally been signed in relation to the Attack class future submarines, but no minister has actually read the amendments to that document. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Naval Group global chief executive, Pierre Pommellet, when he was at parliament for talks with Commonwealth officials on a range of issues, including a 60 per cent minimum spend on the Future Submarine project. It was a shame he didn't have the same opportunity to meet with the actual Minister for Defence. We discussed the agreement he was yet to finalise with the Commonwealth, in which there would be a 60 per cent spend minimum in the course of the build of all 12 future submarines. That means that the 60 per cent minimum won't be reached until the very end.
I'm disappointed that the Morrison government is keeping the details on this—and any potential for penalties against Naval if they don't meet these requirements—a complete secret, under the guise of commercial-in-confidence, despite the fact that there is no competitive process now. Naval are the ones building these submarines. There's no competitive process at all. So we've been seeking the definitions of 'spend' and 'content', and what the government is including in this minimum 60 per cent that it now says it has committed to, but, even after a full day of defence estimates yesterday, we are none the wiser. It is all part of the don't-ask, don't-tell mentality that we continue to see under the Morrison government.
This uncertainty, though, for business and for Aussie jobs—and, frankly, this government's complete inability to support the future of a sovereign Australian defence industry—is just appalling. We're running in silent mode, stealth mode, when these things should really be coming to the surface. We keep trying to dive deeper, but the government won't give any of the information.
It's why Labor has already committed to implementing concrete rules to maximise local content and create local jobs for defence acquisitions. It means negotiating appropriate, specific, enforceable and audited AIC commitments into the contractual arrangements on all major defence materiel procurements and local defence contracts. The disclosure of these commitments must be public and transparent. Labor's policy would not only create ongoing Australian jobs; it would further develop Australia's sovereign capability, ensuring workers are technically skilled up not just to build defence equipment but to maintain, upgrade and augment it into the future. A future Labor government would also ensure that at least one in every 10 jobs in major projects, defence—including future defence programs—or otherwise were filled by an apprentice,. We need to rebuild the nation's manufacturing industry with a comprehensive plan to create jobs, boost viable skills, bring industry expertise back onshore and supercharge our collective national productivity.
We know this government has no understanding of supporting Aussie businesses. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Treasury expects that up to 150,000 people will lose their job as a consequence of the government's withdrawal of JobKeeper in just three days, this Sunday. Some experts have even said that the number could be as high as 250,000 jobs lost. The Morrison government has no plan for the economy and no plan to support Australian businesses and workers. The only suggestion, with three days left until JobKeeper is withdrawn, is Centrelink encouraging people to sign up early to ensure they can receive the JobSeeker payment, which is around 60 per cent of the JobKeeper payment that these people will be losing.
Labor, on the other hand, does have a plan for Aussie jobs. We want to create a defence industry development strategy which will better leverage the $270 billion investment pipeline, develop sovereign industrial and research capabilities and build skills and expertise within the Australian workforce. We need to put Australian industry, workers and security first with a framework to maximise and with public disclosure of local content for all major defence materiel procurements. We're also looking to improve our manufacturing skillset and capability through a national rail manufacturing plant to see more trains built here in Australia by local workers with local know-how. Maybe that will make sure that they can actually fit through the tunnels and into the stations that we already have. We need to ensure that every dollar of federal funding spent on rail projects boosts our local jobs and our local industry, and the same has to be said for Defence as well.
Under the current trajectory, we are at risk of seeing a continued decrease in local Defence work in favour of offshore suppliers, with all the international supply chain risks that entails, which has been very much highlighted over the last 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's up to the federal government to implement contractual requirements that compel Defence primes to do the work here in Australia and work with local companies now to put in place the mechanisms to grow Australian defence industry, from SMEs up to primes. There are minimum levels that are only met at the end of a project, with no transparency. That's not good enough. Australian companies need to be factored into the Defence project supply chain from the very beginning—involved in design, involved in engineering, involved in developing capability, involved in the technological developments for the whole life of a platform's build and ongoing sustainment. We must share the risk, put our skin back into the game, and, frankly, we need to back ourselves in Defence, like we do in the Olympics.
It is somewhat difficult to support two bills that appropriate $2.64 billion of public money from a directionless, divided and shambolic eight-year-old government that has not only lost its moral compass but also arrogantly believes that it is above the law and is not accountable to the parliament nor the Australian people. It is a government that has used and abused its power for its own political benefit; a government that has treated billions of dollars of public funds as coalition slush funds, while hounding vulnerable people who desperately try to make ends meet on welfare payments; a heartless government with a disgraceful record of human rights abuses in its treatment of refugees; a government that has presided over some of the worst cases of neglect and abuse of older people in aged care and, even after a scathing royal commission report and over 20 previous reports, older people are still suffering; a government that still fails to understand the extent of discrimination against women in Australian society and thinks that comforting words and platitudes will suffice; a government that has stacked government boards, judicial appointments and senior Public Service positions with ex coalition politicians, staffers, political sympathisers or supporters.
This is a government that not only has used public money to line the pockets of its mates with those appointments, which often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also has paid millions of dollars above market prices for property. Then there is Murray-Darling Basin water and other government contracts. We heard only this week of a nearly $4 million feasibility study for a new coal-fired power station that was never, ever going to be built. There was the Leppington Triangle land sale, where $30 million was paid to an alleged Liberal mate for land worth only $3 million, and the land was then released back to the seller at the true market value of, I believe, less than $2 million. How can the government do that and believe that it's unaccountable to the Australian people?
There was also the payment of almost $13 million more for Murray-Darling Basin water than was advised by an independent valuer. There were several examples of that. And there was the $423 million contract for security on Manus Island awarded to an unknown company called Paladin. It's no wonder that the Morrison government does not want a Commonwealth integrity commission, something that Labor has been calling for for years. The government talks about it, talks about how it's consulting, but deliberately drags its feet and sidesteps the issue. Why? Because it knows that a national integrity commission would very likely look at the very issues that I have just referred to. Indeed, when the Auditor-General looked at some of these matters, we saw that the Auditor-General's budget was cut because it had found anomalies and was very critical of the government in the way it was expending money.
The government does the same with respect to giving First Nations people a voice. Again, there is a lot of talk, lots of propositions, but the government carefully sidesteps the issue because there is too much division about it within its own ranks. Again, I don't expect to see much progress on that within the life of this government. But of course the incompetency doesn't stop there. This is a government that resisted a banking royal commission until its own members forced it to act. From memory, the government voted against it about 26 times. Then, when the royal commission report was finally handed to it, the government ignored, deviated from or procrastinated over the recommendations. This is a government that not only mismanaged the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme but then cut $4.6 billion of funding from it so that it could claim a balanced budget. Now it wants everyone on the scheme to undergo an independent reassessment in order to reassess the support packages that people are currently on. That in itself is another cost-cutting measure that I foresee from this government, an example of where the government is looking to make cuts and doing it by appointing an independent assessment process so that the ultimate result will be less funding for each of those packages. But we'll wait and see what the government has to say about that in the weeks and months ahead.
This is a government that took over the royal commission into child sexual abuse but then ignored the commission's recommendations and, not surprisingly, left victims disappointed with the Redress Scheme. Only this week we saw it again, with calls for a royal commission into veteran suicides. It took a public campaign and a majority of members of this parliament for the government to sit up and listen, just as it took a long public campaign for the Morrison government to grant Teddy Sheean the recognition he rightfully deserved. Again, these are great examples of the public speaking out and speaking out forcefully, to the point where the government has had to backflip. Disappointingly, with respect to the royal commission into veteran suicides, the government was not even prepared to support the motion. The Prime Minister said, 'We simply will not oppose it.' Well, what does that mean? What sort of message does that send to the veterans and their families and loved ones who have been crying out for a royal commission?
We then had the $721 million—possibly much more than that, when the final repayments are made—of the robodebt debacle. Not only was it immoral but it was illegal, and the government knew it was illegal and persisted with it, hoping that it wouldn't be caught out. But in the end it was. Sadly, that debacle hurt people badly, because they had to go through a process of repaying money that they believed they should never have had to repay. The stress it caused many of them is something that this government should be absolutely ashamed of.
We also had the $70 million COVID app that no-one used and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation being given $444 million of money that was, again, rightfully criticised by the Auditor-General, as was the $100 million sports rorts, which resulted in Minister McKenzie's resignation. Again the Prime Minister was able to sidestep that issue. He claimed to know nothing about it, claimed that it was something that was outside of his control and that all the applications were above board. But we know it was a rort. It was disclosed as a rort. Quite frankly, the government ought to, again, bury its head in shame for the way it manages public funding, not just because it was a rort in itself but because so many worthy organisations put so much time and effort into preparing submissions and applications which then were not funded.
Perhaps the most glaring examples of this government's incompetence are the NBN rollout—it not only cost an additional $27.5 billion and now has to be rectified at a further cost of several billion dollars, but it was also dragged out to the point that people were not getting the services; even today people are not getting the services that they thought they would get once the rollout was complete—and the saga of the replacement submarine contract. We just heard the member for Burt talking about that eloquently and clearly articulating how this government has mismanaged that process from the very start. It's a process which has resulted in a $40 billion blowout of public funds, so we now have the expectation that it will cost $90 billion for the replacement submarines. But we still don't know what we are getting, when we are getting them or how much of the work will be in Australia.
After eight years in government, you would have thought that this issue might have been sorted out, but, as the member for Burt quite rightly pointed out just a few moments ago, in Senate estimates this week, it was revealed that we still don't have answers to some of those critical questions. Even the question of the 60 per cent local work contract—which, I might add, was 90 per cent at the time that the contract was announced—is absolutely not clear. I now read reports that that might occur with the second, third or fourth submarine that is built, but not necessarily with the first one. That is an example of where we should be building these submarines here in Australia, skilling our own workforce. We have the expertise. We've shown that through the Australian Submarine Corporation at Osborne, and yet we are paying someone from overseas to do work that should be done here. We're not talking about a few million dollars; we're talking about $90 billion, and possibly more by the time all of the details are sorted out.
This is also the mob that allowed profitable Australian companies to claim billions of dollars from its JobKeeper program, with the executives of some of those companies being paid millions of dollars in bonuses while people were losing their jobs. I understand that 30 of those companies recorded higher profits during the COVID period than they did the previous years, yet they were getting public funding in order for them to make those higher profits. This is the mob—that's all I can refer to them as—that claim that they are good economic managers, a government that pretend that they are acting in the national interest, that pretend that they know how to manage the economy, but yet, in reality, have seen not millions but billions of public dollars being wasted or improperly expended.
As I said from the outset, these two bills allocate $2.6 billion of additional government spending. Gross debt is currently over $800 billion and forecast to reach well over $1 trillion. This year's deficit is forecast to be $197.7 billion, with cumulative deficits over the forward estimates expected to reach $456 billion, or 2½ times the debt inherited by the coalition. And we haven't even factored into that the cost of the recent floods that we have seen over the past week.
They are the government who claimed to be good economic managers. The question that needs to be answered is not only when and how the debt is going to be repaid but what we have to show for it. Very little! And in a couple of weeks time, when JobKeeper ends and we have another couple of hundred thousand people on welfare or unemployment benefits, then what will the debt blow out to then?
The fact remains that this government is incompetent. It's a government with no clear economic strategy, but riddled with rorts, pork-barrelling and incompetence. This is a government that, quite frankly, shouldn't be given the opportunity to spend another $2.6 billion without adequate scrutiny. We have always taken the moral view that we will not oppose appropriation bills, and for that reason we will support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and its cognate bill, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021. But the reality is that we support them not because we have confidence in this government—rather the opposite is the case—but because it is the right thing to do.
In 2019, at the International Women's Day breakfast, the Prime Minister said he wanted to see women rise, but not at the expense of men. Sadly the appropriation bill before us, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 reflects this sentiment. It does little to advance or invest in the opportunity, equity and safety of women. In this legislation, the Morrison government had the chance to acknowledge the disproportionate impact that COVID has had on women, and they have chosen not to. Child care, hospitality, aged care, education, travel—these are all industries that have been left high and dry by this government. All these sectors are important to the wellbeing of families and the productivity of our nation. It is a shame that the government views their funding as a cost rather than an investment.
On Sunday JobKeeper is set to end. This will devastate many small businesses and family businesses across my electorate, especially those in the tourism and travel sector. Travel agents employ 40,000 Australians. 30,000 of these employees are women. I have spent much time over the past couple of months with these hard-working women who run many of the travel agencies across my electorate. Without JobKeeper, they have told me they're afraid they will be unable to keep the doors open. Last week I spoke to Greg, who owns a travel agency in Waurn Ponds. He's working four jobs just to keep afloat. He has six staff, and five of those are women. They're all worried they're going to lose their jobs on Monday.
Earlier this week I asked the Prime Minister in question time why he would rip the economic support away when we know that the travel agency industry is unlikely to recover until next year at least. The Prime Minister responded that it was all okay, nothing to see here, because the government had done a deal for the airlines to offer half-price flights. Half-price flights will do nothing to help Liz, Lyn, Nicole, Matt, Jess and Kim. The travel agency industry needs JobKeeper to be extended, or at least to have a very targeted support package, and this package should be included in the budget.
The child care sector has also not fared well under this government. Child care and early education centres mostly remained open during the pandemic, but child care was the first sector to lose JobKeeper in July last year, leaving many child-care centres around this country running at a loss. While the Morrison government provided some relief to child-care centres throughout my home state of Victoria's lockdown, it wasn't enough. As only 30 per cent of the sector is categorised as full time, it left casual employees ineligible for support payments. With fewer casuals available, other staff are now having to work longer hours and pick up more shifts to fill the shortages. We're staring the down the barrel of a crisis in this sector, devaluing the critical work of our child-care workers. I wish I could say I wasn't surprised the Morrison government had chosen not to invest in this sector as a means of boosting the economy, but I guess that is what happens when there is only one female on the coalition's Expenditure Review Committee.
An investment in child care is an investment in women, it's an investment in families and it should be a priority in this budget. Otherwise we'll continue to hear stories like Pawandeep's. Pawandeep is a young woman who lives in Grovedale in my electorate. She desperately wants more work. She wants to work additional days, but the cost of doing so is holding her back. By not addressing the prohibitive costs of child care, this government is holding women back from returning to work.
Aged care is another example of a profession dominated by hardworking women that this government is failing to invest in. Just last week, a 30-strong delegation of nurses and personal-care workers came to Canberra. They'd hoped to meet with key decision-makers across the entire parliament. The delegation was only able to secure one meeting with the government MP. It was a coalition backbencher. The royal commission reflected the great need for investment and for better staffing within the sector. I urge the Morrison government to act on the commissioner's findings, and not leave this to collect dust like the probes that have come before it. What is needed is a plan with teeth—a plan underpinned by compassion and by real funding. Our aged-care employees and loved one in the sector deserve nothing less.
The latest Workplace Gender Equality Agency report shows men take home $25,000 a year, or $242 a week, more than women on average. The surge in casual and part-time work since the peak of the pandemic is only widening this gap. The Centre for Future Work suggests that if the data was properly measured, the pay gap between all workers would be an alarming 31 per cent. Women's employment dropped almost eight per cent between February and May last year. Compared with January 2020, women's employment is lower by about 53,000 jobs while male employment rose by 7,000 jobs. The pay gap will only increase unless something is done to address the rise in casual, insecure work and childcare costs. If we want women to advance, there must be an investment to make it happen.
Speaking of investment, wouldn't it be good if this government stopped ripping funds from the National Disability Insurance Scheme?
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11:12 to 11:24
by leave—I was previously speaking about the completely laissez faire attitude of this government to many of the issues that concern me around health, around disability, around local infrastructure, around jobs and around education. In particular, I was speaking of the rapid increase in gap costs for high-level medical care that's occurring around Australia in areas such as interventional surgery, ophthalmology, ENT surgery and cardiology, where people are having to pay gap costs of several hundred dollars for consultations, including consultations with the cardiologist and neurologist, and, indeed, thousands of dollars above the schedule fee for things like cataract surgery and ENT surgery. The waiting list for cataract surgery in my electorate—and this is for people who are blind—is over two years; yet, if people are prepared to pay $4,000 above the schedule fee, they can have their cataracts done next week. It's a real disgrace. It means that we've got a two-tier health system, which the government has been quite happy to let develop over the last decade.
We know that life expectancy is markedly different depending on where you live. It's health care by postcode, where outer metropolitan, rural and regional people live 10 or even 15 years less than those who live in the inner cities. There are many reasons for that, but partly it's the development of the two-tier healthcare system, which I think is an absolute tragedy. Australia has had the best public health system in the world, and part of the reason we've done so well during the COVID pandemic compared to many other countries is our public health system. Yet, the government has been prepared to let it gradually deteriorate. It's a great tragedy. We must maintain our universal healthcare insurance scheme—Medicare—so that it is fit for purpose for the 21st century. I will be working as hard as I can in this House to make sure that Medicare is strengthened.
The other issue that has been a real tragedy is the lack of any concept from this government of the importance of data in modern health care. In 2016 the government sold off our cervical cancer and breast cancer register to Telstra Health, which was a great tragedy. I will be working as hard as I can to make sure that people are aware of what a problem this will be in 21st century medicine. The government's pathetic attempts to roll out electronic healthcare records is another case in point. We need to invest in data and data collection, because this is the future of health care. This government have failed at every level, and they've failed because they philosophically don't understand the importance of universal health care and the importance of data in this digital age. It is a tragedy that must be reversed if we are going to keep our healthcare system the best in the world. I really wish the government, instead of patting themselves on the back all the time with their piecemeal health announcements, would develop a philosophy that understands universal health care and the importance for our economy of having health for all Australians and health equality for all Australians.
Whilst we describe the NDIS as bipartisan, the government does not understand the importance of the NDIS for in particular people who are very disadvantaged. They constantly put roadblocks in the way. They constantly develop add-ons to the system that restrict people's ability to access the NDIS: in particular, the private assessors that the government is insisting on now—again, just another layer of bureaucracy, where someone who has very little idea is made to assess people with, sometimes, the most complex medical problems and illnesses, and it just slows the system down and adds another area of complexity to the bureaucracy and denies people adequate care. I deal with some of the most complex genetic disorders that we see in childhood, and many of those people are really struggling to access the NDIS like they should, because of this government's poor concept and understanding of the NDIS.
We have seen also, in terms of infrastructure, how this government has failed to understand the importance of major infrastructure projects in all electorates. They fund their own Liberal electorates but they don't fund the most important infrastructure in electorates like mine, which are Labor voting electorates. We've seen this with the Western Sydney airport rail line: they've committed to the northern part of that rail line, for which no adequate business case has ever been made, and this is in the words of Infrastructure Australia; yet the most rapidly developing areas, to the south of the airport, in my electorate of Macarthur, will not be getting the public transport link—the rail line—even though a very strong business case can and has been made for that link. So they're denying people in the rapidly growing areas—many thousands of people—adequate transport links to Western Sydney airport and, indeed, to the rest of Sydney.
Those opposite just have failed to understand, in any underlying philosophy, the importance of this: that they are there to govern for all Australians, not just their mates. We've seen the rorts that have happened with the land releases around Western Sydney airport, we've seen the sports rorts and the infrastructure rorts, we've seen the council grant rorts—we've seen a whole range of rorts from the Liberal governments, without any underlying concept of the importance of governing for all Australians.
In housing, we've seen people on even moderate incomes excluded from getting into the housing market, because of the government's poor understanding of the need for social and affordable housing. We've seen wealthy Australians flocking to auctions and buying property after property; yet, at the same time, we're seeing young working families not being able to provide a roof over their own heads. Companies are recording record profits—many of them, being paid JobKeeper, in spite of profits at record levels—and refusing to pay back their JobKeeper allowances. We're a rich country but we're not an equitable one, and this government is making it worse. We can do so much better.
Prior to the pandemic, our economy was lagging, wages growth was stagnant and people were struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. As I say, my good friend the member for Rankin remarked in an address at the National Press Club that we shouldn't want to get back to the standard we had before the pandemic; we want a better standard for all. Those opposite have demonstrated, through their handling of the crisis, that they have no interest in an equitable society. The coalition is content with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. They're content with billionaires pocketing taxpayers' money whilst hardworking mums and dads and local businesses are left wanting.
In my electorate, the end of the JobKeeper allowance is going to be an absolute tragedy for many of the small businesses in my electorate, and many of them have contacted me saying they will not be able to continue on without some form of support. These are people in the entertainment industry, people in the hospitality industry, people in tourism—in the many small businesses that are the lifeblood of my electorate.
The government, through all of their economic prowess—so they say—are still amassing trillions of dollars of debt, and Australians are asking why the rich companies and rich people are doing well but they are struggling. Macarthur residents are not seeing any tangible improvements in their standard of living, and the fear is that the massive debt that the government have accrued they and their children will pay off for generations. People in my electorate are doing it tough, and, with all of this government debt and the mismanagement, I believe, of taxpayer funds, Macarthur residents know that the coalition government are not in their corner.
There's a lot of spin in what the government say. With respect to health, they like to announce new drugs are being released. They forget that the PBS is bipartisan; it doesn't have a political aspect. Those releases would happen no matter what government was in power. Healthcare costs are spiralling out of control. Housing costs are spiralling out of control. People have to pay so much for transport through increasing tolls on roads and increasing public transport costs. What do the government do? They want to bring in a restrictive industrial relations framework. Thankfully, they didn't get most of what they wanted through, because that would have put even more pressure on working families, but that is the philosophy of the government: punish the poor and let the wealthy proceed on their course. A leopard doesn't change its spots. This government is getting more and more conservative as time goes on. We have a coalition government that is gearing up to put industrial relations pressure on working people and let the wealthy do what they want.
Everyday working people are really struggling in spite of record company profits. With the dividend imputation system the way it is, many wealthy people are profiting, yet working-class families barely have enough to put a roof over their head and food on the table. Those opposite come into this place and talk about our 'recovery' and our 'comeback', but for many people their quality of life will not improve unless something drastic is done to help them, not the wealthy. It's not a recovery if you're robbing entire communities of economic opportunity and jobs; if you're pork-barrelling money into projects that have no business case and are of no benefit to the average person. Unfortunately, those opposite, whilst they are ideologically divided, have demonstrated their true nature in what they want to do with industrial relations and what they want to do with health care and education—what they want to do with taxpayers' money. We know that those without stable work have been less able to get work. We know that those who are working multiple jobs feel increasing pressure. We know that many young families struggle to put a roof over their head. These bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021, are all spin and no substance. There's no adequate philosophy in this government. I thank the House.
What a privilege it was to be here for the contribution of my friend the member for Macarthur, who brought to bear his life experience, passion and understanding in his consideration of these measures and the context in which they are situated. In my remarks on these two bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021, I want to set them out in their context as well as dealing with those measures that largely relate to the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. They are measures that require some comment because the budget, obviously, is the way in which Australia's government expresses its values, our values and our concerns. But there are other matters which we should be considering, as well as the measures contained in these bills—and, frankly, the measures that would have been contained in these bills had we a government as good as the Australian people; a government on the side of Australians, particularly working-class Australians and vulnerable people, the people we work hardest to represent in this place, as you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou.
I'm very conscious, as I stand here, that on 1 April, in just a couple of days time, huge changes will come—huge changes to the disbenefit of hundreds of thousands of Australians. Changes to income support will, in many cases, rip people away from employment and deny them the opportunity to maintain a dignified standard of living. In the other place right now, questions are being asked about the real-life impact of these changes, this ill-considered withdrawal of support. Lots of good questions have been asked; few satisfactory answers have been given. It seems that officials can't answer questions about the impact of significant changes, such as that to the partner income test. When we see what has happened in all of our electorates, we see the difference that the addition of the supplement has made to people and families. It is quite extraordinary that the impact, particularly on children who have been supported, which is enormous, has not been properly attended to by this government. It is one more shameful indictment in a series of shameful indictments on the part of this government.
I wanted to touch on that because what's going to happen on 1 April will have an extraordinary impact on the communities we all represent. There will be an extraordinary impact also on us as a nation, as a people. We've seen Australians at their best through the pandemic and, from time to time, even this government have come to support them, generally when they've exhausted all other options. The strength that we've seen, our compact that binds us to each other, has been undermined by a government which doesn't recognise that now is not the time to rip away fundamental supports. Now is not the time to remove people from a connection to work, which is so fundamentally important, particularly when we see the disaster that has been the JobMaker program and particularly when we see the absence of any meaningful plan for reconstruction that's built around having secure work. I hope government members, including the member for Braddon, who is here and I know is a decent person, can talk to colleagues about the impact of these changes and seek to persuade them that now is not the time to take away these precious supports that have secured people dignity. They can't be ripped away right now.
In this building today and over the past few weeks, we've had to think about a broader context: how unequal our society is and what we might do about it. Last year, 2020, didn't only bring us the experience of a pandemic; it presented a reckoning around the world on race, with the Black Lives Matter movement—a movement that energised and captured the anger and frustration of so many in the United States, in the UK and, of course, here, as we grappled with so many aspects of injustice, particularly impacting First Nations Australians, 30 years on from the royal commission into deaths in custody. I understand that today there is more tragic news on that front, taking the number of Indigenous deaths in custody since the royal commission to well over 400. The reckoning on race, about who we are as a people, is something that we are yet to grapple with effectively. The government is failing to grapple with its dismissive attitude to the Statement from the Heart—a generous offer by First Nations people for the rest of us to walk with them to reconciliation and a shared equal future. And there is the failure to do the right thing in recognising the other half of the modern Australian story, our immigration story, with the cruel rhetoric and cruel decisions, cutting people off from income support and, frankly, treating people appallingly with the rhetoric of going home—people who couldn't go home and should not be told to go home. This again rips apart our social fabric, with racism on the rise, with anti-Semitism on the rise and with Islamophobia on the rise. We need clear leadership—leadership in words; leadership in deeds from our government. This has been lacking.
I acknowledge that there have been statements from members of the government and the Prime Minister condemning racism, but they fall far short of what is required, which is a strategy founded on first principles, on our values of treating everyone equally, ensuring that every aspect of our society is equally open to everyone, regardless of their background and regardless of their faith. That is informed by listening, but we have a Prime Minister who doesn't listen. He demonstrates that every time he presents himself as having listened, with every one of his resets that we have seen. Of course none of us can escape the other reckoning that we're going through, which is the reckoning on women's rights, on how women are treated in our society and, most pointedly for all of us in this place, how they are treated in this building. This place which should be an exemplar to our society has in fact proved to be the reverse, where the most fundamental acts of decency seem to be beyond this government.
I don't expect members opposite to share my sense of how the world should be or the policy decisions a government should make, but surely it should not be too much to ask for basic decency in how people are treated, particularly people who have been through the most unimaginable circumstances. Yet that is what we see: a failure to listen; a failure to listen to those voices that were so extraordinarily powerful in the March 4 Justice. All of us in this place have privileges, but to stand out the front of the parliament just over a week ago and feel the anger being turned into an energy for change was something that I was struck by and continue to be struck by. I'm struck by it every day in the conversations I have, both when I feel the pain that has been triggered in so many of my friends and colleagues, and in the conversations I have in the electorate.
People are looking for leadership. They're looking for unequivocal leadership and a government that is on the side of Australian women, a government which does not just say it listens, but demonstrates that it is engaged in dialogue across the community to deliver a society in which everyone can participate equally. That's got to start with having a parliament in which everyone can participate equally, as members, as representatives in the other place, as staff, as everyone who works in this building, the journalists, the cleaners, the attendants.
This is an incredibly difficult time. I don't presume to know how difficult for many, but I think we all know that. We have all seen the pain. The question for those of us in this place is, what will we do with that knowledge? What will we do with our understanding of what has gone wrong? We cannot be silent. We must send signals that this building is the exemplar to the Australian community that it must be. We can't refuse to answer critical questions that go to character. They go to the character of the Prime Minister. They go to the character of his government. They go to our character as a nation. Ms Higgins deserves so much more than that, but how can she be denied that?
This is something that I find extraordinary: the absence of any sense of responsibility. We speak about this often in relation to this government. We have a Prime Minister who had ambitions for the highest office in the land that aren't matched by his ambition for the people he should be serving. At every level we see that in this government. The paucity of vision contained in the legislation we're debating now is one illustration of that.
I, with all of our colleagues, am up for a debate about our alternative vision for Australia, the policies that we think can secure a recovery, the policies that we think can give every Australian a reasonable shot at a decent life, a secure job, a roof over their head, education for their children, access to early learning and child care—all of these things. That's the debate that we're up for, but we can't really have that debate until the issue that's clouding this building is resolved and until the Prime Minister and perhaps those around him accept their responsibility to do so, their responsibility to Ms Higgins, their responsibility to every person who works or has worked in this building to secure a system of work, a place of work, that is safe, where people can articulate their concerns without fear of reprisals, without fear of having their name traduced or their loved ones' names traduced in the media—to be treated with respect, and when they raise serious issues, a Ms Higgins did out the front of parliament in such powerful and courageous terms, for the Prime Minister not to dissemble and deflect. Thirteen times the member for Ballarat has asked him what steps he has taken to look into this allegation. She's asked no more than that, no more than for him to look into the very, very serious allegation, concerning integrity and decency, that has been made against people who work for the Prime Minister. And, here we are, none the wiser, because there will be no effort made to look into this. We're not seeing progress, let alone justice. We're not seeing an acknowledgement that there is justice to be pursued. That is so far from good enough for Ms Higgins, for all of us.
I just hope that, when we return at two o'clock to hold the government to account, the government will respect that process, for once, and the Prime Minister will address his remarks through us, through the Speaker, to the Australian people, to show finally, through all the presentations that are supposed to be resets, dressed up as mea culpas, that we will actually see a reset, that we will actually a mea culpa, not a shuffling of the deckchairs, which seems to be the answer. This isn't about the politics of every day. This isn't about managing the media cycle. They are the hallmarks of this government—I get that—and that probably won't change, but this is a fundamental question. This is a time of reckoning that is beyond these issues that make up our ordinary political conversation.
Trust in government has actually gone up. Trust in the institutions that shape the lives of Australians has gone up. But it will disappear very, very quickly if action isn't taken. Anyone who comes to this place, from whatever perspective, is surely here to do good. We can only do that if the Australian people will give us that licence. Fundamental to that licence is having national leadership that will stand up for what is fundamentally right, that will treat people with respect, that will recognise that we are at a point of reckoning on gender and, frankly, that this parliament has let Australian woman down.
I'm pleased to rise to speak on the appropriations bills for 2020-2021. It's been an extraordinary 12 months. During the COVID-19 pandemic, time has taken on a very strange quality. For those of us who, for more than 100 days in the last 12 months, were engaged in the homeschooling of primary-school-age children, it sometimes felt that time had stopped passing altogether, as the days, the weeks and the months melded into one. In other aspects of our lives, it was like time had gone into fast-forward. In the technology space, we've seen a decade's worth of adoption of new technologies in just 12 months as we've learned how to work remotely and to consume services like health and education via telecommunication services. We've seen a similar pattern in international relations, where the tensions and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have brought on a decade's worth of worsening strategic tensions in just 12 months.
In my portfolio of cybersecurity, we've seen these trends come together in one. In 2021 we've already seen some of the most significant cybersecurity incidents on record. Each of these incidents has raised significant issues for the nation and the Morrison government. First, the security firm FireEye identified the SUNBURST backdoor within the SolarWinds Orion IT monitoring software, a vulnerability that formed part of the most successful supply chain attack in history, an attack that could have compromised 18,000 users of SolarWinds software and that the US government believes hackers backed by the Russian government did in fact use to gain access to targets as significant as the US departments of treasury, state, homeland security and energy and the National Institutes of Health and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, described that as the 'largest and most sophisticated attack' ever. We're yet to hear anything from the Morrison government about this incident. There seem to be two ways that they could view this incident. Some analysts view it as simply a particularly successful form of cyberespionage by one government against another, long regarded as accepted under emerging cybernorms. Others argue that the supply chain aspect of this attack gives it a different character. The report of the 2015 UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security provides a recommendation about normal state behaviour in cyberspace, saying:
States should take reasonable steps to ensure the integrity of the supply chain so that end users can have confidence in the security of ICT products. States should seek to prevent the proliferation of malicious ICT tools and techniques and the use of harmful hidden functions …
Does the Australian government believe that there is a norm for state behaviour in cyberspace that prohibits supply chain attacks, even for purposes that would be acceptable under existing norms? We don't know; we haven't heard from them.
Anne Neuberger, US Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, has described the SolarWinds attack as 'more than a single incident of espionage; it's fundamentally a concern for the ability for this to become disruptive'. Does the Australian government believe that supply chain attacks have the potential to be disruptive in the way described by Ms Neuberger? We don't know; we haven't heard from them.
Hot on the heels of SolarWinds, on 5 January, Taiwanese researcher Cheng-Da Tsai identified a series of new vulnerabilities in locally hosted instances of the Microsoft Exchange Server software. Microsoft assessed the vulnerability and attributed the attack to state based hackers. At this point I should note for the record that as an opposition spokesman I have neither the access nor the expertise to make an attribution assessment of this attack, but Microsoft has, and Microsoft developed a patch for these vulnerabilities and, on 3 March, issued an alert about the threat. That alert made it clear that 'even though we've worked quickly to deploy an update for the Hafnium exploits, we know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems '.
The operators of unpatched Microsoft Exchange Servers were highly vulnerable, not just to this state backed espionage but also to follow-on ransomware attacks by cybercriminals. Getting the word out to as many potentially vulnerable organisations as possible about this threat was urgent. But, in the subsequent days, researchers estimated that more than 100,000 servers around the world could have been compromised by these hackers. It was an urgent issue. Hackers used automated scanning tools to identify vulnerable systems and then installed unauthenticated web shells on the servers to enable easy subsequent access. The issue was so significant that, on 6 March, US President Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, said at the White House press briefing:
… this is a significant vulnerability that could have far-reaching impacts.
She said that network owners also needed to consider whether they had already been compromised and should immediately take appropriate steps. Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs warned operators of vulnerable servers that they should assume compromise.
By 9 March, six days after Microsoft issued its first alert, The Australian was reporting that 7,000 servers in Australia were vulnerable. But, while the ACSC had been issuing alerts to ACSC partners, and those who closely monitored its website during this time saw the alert, we heard nothing from members of the Morrison government about this allegedly state sponsored attack.
On 19 June last year, the Prime Minister and the defence minister held a high-profile press conference about the threat to the nation posed by the exploitation of the copy-paste vulnerability. Yet we didn't see the same response from the Prime Minister or the defence minister to this, objectively, even more serious cybersecurity threat. If ever there was a cybersecurity incident that demanded the Prime Minister mount the bully pulpit and get the word out about the urgent need for organisations to protect themselves, it was this one. In Microsoft's alert about this vulnerability, it claimed that the state sponsored actor that was exploiting this vulnerability primarily targets, among other things, infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defence contractors, policy think tanks and NGOs. Many of these organisations won't be ACSC partners and they won't be hitting 'refresh' on the ACSC cyberalerts page. Political leadership was needed to get the word out to these entities as soon as possible, but the PM and the defence minister were silent. Why? The Morrison government had been engulfed by its own sleaze and scandals and distracted from this important national security issue.
At the time the Microsoft exchange vulnerability was going public, the defence minister was on leave. The acting defence minister, who is also the Minister for Women, was in hiding from the media. The Assistant Defence Minister, the member of the executive to whom the Morrison government intended to give responsibility for the ACSC and cybersecurity more broadly, still hadn't received his charter letter setting out his responsibilities, three months after his appointment. We didn't see any form of statement from any member of the Morrison government about this Exchange server vulnerability until 10 March, a week after these vulnerabilities were disclosed, when the assistant defence minister issued a press release, a press release simply urging people to patch their systems and follow technical advice—too late; too late.
The other Morrison government minister we haven't heard from on this is the home affairs minister. Who could forget the tough talk we heard from the minister in October 2019. He gave a press release in October 2019 where he said, with much chest-beating machismo, that the Australian government 'won't allow our government bodies or our non-government bodies to be hacked into' and that it will 'call out cyberattacks on the nation'. Despite the macho rhetoric, the minister is now nowhere to be seen. He's too busy backgrounding the media that he will be the new defence minister. To add insult to injury, we now read that the Minister for Government Services is in line to become the new home affairs minister, with responsibility for cybersecurity policy, in the upcoming reshuffle.
After eight long years of scandal and sleaze have decimated the coalition frontbench, this is what we are left with: the minister for 'my bad' and fictitious DDoS attacks, the member for $40,000 home internet bills and the master of disaster leading Australia's national security. Members of the Morrison government are so obsessed with themselves—with their own scandals and their own promotion prospects—that they've taken their eye off the ball on an important matter of national security. These incidents demanded more than simply technical advisories from government and warnings that organisations needed to patch their systems. Under another government, we would have seen a ministerial statement on these incidents outlining how the Australian government saw the very serious issues they raised. Given the scale of this attack and the potential state-actor element, we need to hear from the government about whether they believe this behaviour accords with international law.
Dimitri Alperovitch, the co-founder and former CTO of the highly respected cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, has stated that the state sponsored dimension of these Exchange server attacks is 'a major norms violation', because:
While it started out as targeted espionage campaign, they engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior by scanning/compromising Exchange servers across the entire IPv4 address space with webshells that can now be used by other actors, including ransomware crews …
We need to know if the Australian government shares the view that these attacks are a violation of the expected international norms of appropriate behaviour by states in cyberspace. Alperovitch has further stated:
This in my view deserves a significant response by the Biden Administration, especially if we start seeing, as expected, damaging ransomware attacks against American companies …
On 9 March 2021, the day before the assistant minister's media release, Alperovitch further noted:
Because this campaign is still ongoing … webshells on tens of thousands of networks - the response must demand immediate shutdown of those implants to limit damage, not just signal our displeasure with the fact that it had occured. Needs to happen NOW …
Yet we've heard nothing from the Morrison government on attribution of this attack—not then, and not now. There's nothing on how it intends to respond, nothing on whether it is working with Five Eyes allies to craft a response to this incident and nothing on whether it's made direct representations to any other government about this conduct. In one sense, this is appropriate, because we've heard nothing from the government about the way it thinks about international cybernorms for quite some time.
Indeed, the Morrison government began consultations on its cyber and critical technology international engagement strategy on 22 April 2020. Public submissions on the strategy closed on 16 June 2020. It's been 11 months since the government began public consultations on this strategy and nine months since public submissions on the consultations closed, but the strategy still hasn't been released. A DFAT disclosure on GrantConnect from June 2020 states that the public-facing strategy is scheduled to be released in late 2020. We're now three months after late 2020, and the strategy still hasn't been released.
The foreign affairs minister announced the establishment of the Quad Tech Network on 23 December 2020 to 'strengthen global discussion of cyber and critical technology'. It's a great initiative, but it sounds like the kind of initiative that would have been heavily informed by the government's intended approach in its as yet unreleased cyber and critical technology international engagement strategy. But, bizarrely, that strategy isn't even mentioned in the minister's press release announcing the Quad Tech Network. You'd think that it would have made more sense to finalise the overarching strategy before implementing specific agreements with other areas in this exact area, especially considering that the overarching strategy was originally scheduled for finalisation and publication before the Quad Tech Network.
What is going on inside the Morrison government on cybersecurity policy? After eight long years of the coalition government, responsibility for cybersecurity policy inside this government is a complete mess. It's not led from the top. There's no political leadership. It progresses solely as a function of who inside the government is most adept at bureaucratic knife fights. Australians deserve better in this important area of public policy.
Labor has sought to be a constructive opposition in cybersecurity policy. We have sought to help the government on this important area of national interest. We have released discussion papers on national cyberresilience, examining the lessons we could learn from the systemic risks present in the cybersecurity sector from the challenges we faced in the COVID-19 pandemic. We've released a national ransomware strategy trying to develop a dedicated strategy to combat the most serious cybersecurity threat confronting Australian businesses, the most serious as identified by the Australian Cyber Security Centre. I'm pleased to see that the government has adopted many of the elements of the active cyberdefence strategy that Labor advocated in our national cyberresilience paper, and I'm pleased that Labor's national ransomware strategy discussion paper was followed soon after by a paper on ransomware by the government's Cyber Security Strategy Industry Advisory Panel.
Labor has sought to constructively hold the government accountable for its compliance with the cybersecurity requirements of the Protective Security Policy Framework. I'm pleased that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit issued a bipartisan report late last year on Commonwealth cyberresilience that highlighted the concerns of both members of that committee and the Australian National Audit Office with the continuing failure of the vast majority of Commonwealth entities to implement the ASD's top four cybersecurity mitigations nearly eight years after they became mandatory. Only 24 per cent of Commonwealth entities audited by the ANAO since 2014 have been found to be compliant with the ASD's top fourth mitigations. These are the most fundamental cybersecurity mitigations that can be implemented by an organisation to protect them against cybersecurity threats, and unfortunately non-compliance with these mandatory standards remains endemic. The ANAO continues to hold audits into this issue. The JCPAA continues to hold inquiries into these audits. It's time that the government did better.
Labor in opposition is playing its part in cybersecurity policy, and it's time that the Morrison government did so too. I welcome this government's decision to assign the Assistant Minister for Defence responsibility for these matters. He will provide much-needed political leadership in this space and I wish him well in this endeavour. I simply hope, though, that the upcoming broader ministerial reshuffle will result in cybersecurity getting the political leadership that it needs at the highest level of the Morrison government that has been so sorely lacking since the Prime Minister ascended to his role in 2018.
I speak today on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-21 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-21, bills concerned with the funding of the business of government. When it comes to business, I know that the past 12 months have been very hard for businesses in my electorate of Moreton and also for individuals. The JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme has been the lifeline that kept many businesses afloat, but in just three short days JobKeeper will end. This lifeline will be pulled away, ripped away, from 2,480 businesses in Moreton, businesses that are relying on this lifeline. It will no longer be there for the more than 7,600 workers in Moreton who only kept their jobs because of this taxpayer-provided wage subsidy.
Treasury estimates that up to 150,000 Australians will lose their jobs. It could be worse than that: other economists are actually expecting that figure of job losses to be closer to 250,000 people who'll be joining the jobless queue. That's 250,000 devastated households. While the Prime Minister and Treasurer talk in marketing slogans like Australia's fightback, Australia's comeback, Australia's recovery—focus group tested slogans—my businesses are just trying to stay afloat to keep their employees on the books and to keep supporting these families.
The pandemic isn't over. The Morrison government has only rolled out 10 per cent of the 4 million vaccinations they promised to deliver before the end of the month. Today is 25 March—a significant day for Greek Australians, I think—but only 10 per cent of vaccinations have been rolled out, and the government is ripping away 100 per cent of JobKeeper from the economy. Many businesses don't know how they'll continue to survive once JobKeeper ends in a few days. How many employers will have to be let go because employees just can't afford to pay their wages while the economy is still slowly rebounding, or taking a new shape? There are already two million Australians looking for work. That is already an incredibly long queue. The government is cutting JobKeeper wage subsidy support in just a few days and businesses are going to be left to sink or swim without any ongoing support.
It's too soon for this support to be cut while the government is actually breaking its vaccination rollout promise. Remember when the Prime Minister promised us that we were at the front of the queue? That wasn't the truth. Of course, the Prime Minister's fine—he's had the jab—but there are still 24,800,000 or so Australians who are still waiting to be vaccinated. The Prime Minister is keeping our international borders closed, and I understand the health reasons for doing so, and that he might continue to do so for some time, but there are many sectors that rely on international tourists and international students, and they're going to be struggling for some time yet.
I particularly mention ELICOS, and I will come back to that later, because there are some important developments taking place in the ELICOS sector. There are also international students at universities and, obviously, tourism, particularly in North Queensland. How will these businesses survive and what are the consequences if they don't? ELICOS is a classic example where these people with their incredible skills will, if they're not supported, go to other sectors, and the pipeline that we have for international students going into universities will be cut off. What will happen when these sectors try to spring back to life when the international tourists and the international students are able to return? The businesses need to be supported, but they won't be around. That will be a disaster.
What's even more astonishing about the coalition government cutting JobKeeper support to these businesses too early is that they have wasted so much money by supporting businesses that don't actually need taxpayer support. A report has found that one-fifth of the JobKeeper wage subsidy paid to ASX 300 firms went to entities that reported an increase in their underlying earnings metrics from pre-pandemic levels. That's for one in five. For robodebt, the government was happy to go after people who were doing it tough. We don't have the data on overall JobKeeper payments, but if the same is true for businesses outside ASX 300 firms, then it would follow that, in the second half of 2020, almost $10 billion of JobKeeper—that's taxpayer funds—went to firms whose profits rose.
I remember robodebt. People in the opposition remember robodebt and the harm that occurred. What about Rolex debt? What about Harvey Norman and the like who are taking all this money? We know what JobKeeper was for: it was for Australian taxpayers to help businesses who were suffering financially. It was to keep workers in jobs until our world returned to a new kind of normal. Labor pushed for wage subsidies very early, and I think the member for Gorton was part of that right from the start. We were told that pushing for wage subsidies wasn't appropriate, but Labor knew it was the right thing to do. This support needed to be targeted appropriately, so that those who needed the support got it. We didn't need a sports-rorts-on-steroids type of assistance program.
If the Morrison government had been more competent in their rollout of the JobKeeper wage subsidy, they would not have wasted money that could be used to extend the subsidy for businesses that still need it right now. It could have been used to extend the subsidy for the 1.1 million people currently receiving the subsidy for another six months. So we have 10 per cent of the vaccine rollout, but a 100 per cent cut to the assistance. This would make all the difference to businesses in Moreton and all around the Australia and to the workers who are employed there; it would keep them connected to their workplaces. In six moths, hopefully, we'll be much closer to recommencing international travel and again welcoming tourists and students—hopefully.
Or, rather than the money being misdirected to businesses that did not need it, it could have been originally included for sectors that missed out, like, dare I say, the arts sector or, particularly, the university sector.
It really upsets me and people in Moreton that this Rolex debt will not be paid by these businesses. We've seen companies like Solomon Lew's Premier Investments receive $40 million taxpayer assistance through JobKeeper. They were forced to temporarily shut some of their stores, like Smiggle, Dotti, Portmans and Just Jeans, when the pandemic struck, but when the stores reopened and online sales boomed, Lew's business also boomed. Premier Investments made a bigger profit in 2020 than it made in 2019. Shareholders were paid, in total, $57 million in dividends. Solomon Lew personally received more than $20 million and the CEO received a $2.5 million taxpayer funded bonus. The shares in Premier Investments have dramatically increased to a record high. It's always good to see Australian businesses doing well and making profits. I applaud that. It does mean more jobs. But it begs the question: how carefully designed was the JobKeeper wage subsidy? And, more importantly, should Solomon Lew pay the taxpayer money back? I particularly commend the member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, on the great work he's doing in this area.
The Morrison government are all for social security recipients having income management, but, for corporate welfare, they're happy to let the boardroom dish out multi-million-dollar taxpayer funded bonuses. They flaunt their taxpayer funded Rolex watches while trumpeting the fact that they go after people with a robodebt farce. There is unfortunately no legal obligation today for Solomon Lew to return the JobKeeper subsidies and there seems to be no inclination by the coalition—no word from the backbench, no word from those in the executive—to get businesses to return the JobKeeper subsidies. There seems to be no inclination that they'll pursue those who made windfall profits from the taxpayers' purse.
I should highlight the companies that do have a social conscience and benefited from JobKeeper but bounced back stronger and have paid back the taxpayer subsidies. I will mention just a few of them. Toyota Australia returned $18 million in JobKeeper payments and said;
... returning JobKeeper payments was the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen.
Super Retail Group, which owns Rebel and BCF, announced it would repay $1.7 million in JobKeeper subsidies as its stores have returned a healthy profit. So there was Toyota and Super Retail Group. It sounds like: 'Oh, what a BCF-ing good feeling it is to be a corporate citizen!' It is corporate responsibility being acted out tangibly. Well done, Toyota, Rebel and BCF. JobKeeper should have helped battlers who need the help, not billionaires who don't. This Rolex debt should be repaid. In 2020, the combined wealth of Australia's billionaires jumped by a jaw-dropping 52 per cent. They don't need valuable taxpayer dollars to prop them up, and we shouldn't have to rely on billionaires having a conscience to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent wisely.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer should have ensured that the funds were better targeted to those who really needed it. They should clean up their own mess. But this coalition government just seem to roll from one mess to another. Whether it's their complete lack of integrity or sheer incompetence, it has become difficult to keep up with the daily scandals. In their 8th year in office, here are just a few in the long trail of scandals that have defined this coalition government. They paid 10 times too much to a Liberal Party donor for a piece of land alongside the new Sydney airport, the Leppington Triangle. A federal judge said a government minister had engaged in criminal conduct by unlawfully depriving an asylum seeker of his liberty. The coalition government oversaw a scheme where Services Australia illegally issued debt collection notices to more than 370,000 Australians, and more than 2,000 people died, some from suicide, despite the government being warned beforehand that it was illegal. The member for New England paid $80 million for water rights in the Murray-Darling Basin, a quarter more than the seller even asked for. An unheard of company with its head office in a shack on Kangaroo Island was awarded a $423 million contract to run refugee camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea under a limited tenure. This was the only company invited to bid. The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction sought meetings with senior environment officials about an ongoing investigation by the department into grasslands part owned by the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. We saw the Minister for Home Affairs personally intervene to have two au pairs, who were about to be deported, released from immigration detention after he was contacted by a former colleague. We saw the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction use a fraudulent document—and he's never actually explained how he got that fraudulent document—in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of a local government official, the Sydney Lord Mayor. A minister of the Crown, a minister of the Commonwealth, did this petty deed. I really can't understand that. And who could forget the sports rorts saga, when changes were made to the list of sport grant recipients. Local sporting groups had put time and energy into putting in submissions, but changes were made by the minister, in consultation with the Prime Minister's office, after entering the caretaker period. Sport Australia had no knowledge of six of the grants and no application form in front of them. That's just some of the greatest hits.
In recent months we've seen some awful revelations about allegations of criminal conduct and other disgusting behaviour of coalition staff in this building—a building that should be all about noble intentions rather than the grubby behaviour that we've been hearing about in the last few weeks. Most people come to this parliament to do good things, and those good efforts are being besmirched by those opposite. It has revealed a deeply harmful culture about the treatment of women. What has been response of the Prime Minister and his government? Basically, it's been weasel words and a total avoidance of accountability. It's all about tricky political management and putting out press releases. That is not leadership. It does not even come close. This coalition government has let our nation down, and it is time to throw this lot out.
While there are so many things I'd like to respond to in relation to the appropriation bills—there are so many things that are deficient insofar as the government's performance with respect to a whole series of issues in and outside of my portfolio—the one thing I'd like to touch upon, which was just mentioned is, the absolute disregard for the importance of maintaining the efficacy and equity in the largest employment subsidy program we have seen.
It's true to say that the government finally got around to introducing JobKeeper. But when I asked the Prime Minister in question time whether they would have a wage subsidy his answer was that there was no need. Fortunately they reconvened the parliament and introduced JobKeeper. But we did not expect, many months on, to see that program—billions of taxpayers' money—being used to enrich the very, very rich friends of the government. We did not expect to see corporate executive bonuses being paid in companies that were in receipt of JobKeeper. Quite frankly, that is outrageous, and it is incumbent on those companies to do what other good companies have done and pay back taxpayers' money to the Commonwealth rather than game the system so that they can pay bonuses to corporate executives. That was not the intention of the wage subsidy. The wage subsidy was to look after workers and to look after businesses that were struggling as a result of the restrictions imposed upon them quite rightly for health reasons. Therefore, we need to see those companies do the right thing and pay back that money. As the Labor leader said recently, this government is weak on the strong and strong on the weak. We only need to compare the government's approach to JobKeeper being used for bonuses by companies in this country with the way in which they went about robodebt, where they attacked the vulnerable and threatened them with jail, many times completely erroneously. They have never really apologised for that absolutely outrageous behaviour by the federal government. We want to see better from the government in relation to dealing with people who are seeking to game the system in order to use and misuse taxpayers' money. That needs to be done as a matter of urgency.
In relation to my own portfolio, I have to say that it is replete with problems, mistakes and dereliction by this government. We have seen blowouts in contracts. We have seen blowouts in expenditure. We have seen a failure to ensure that our defence industries are getting sufficient parts of the largest contract that the Commonwealth has entered into in our history. For example, we have a situation where this government went to the last election promising that the Future Submarine Program would have 60 per cent local content. From that commitment it's fair to assume that local businesses, small, medium and large, would have felt that they would have had a great chance of securing a lot of business out of the biggest contract the Commonwealth has entered into in relation to this matter. Nearly $90 billion will be spent.
But what we found after the election was there were no enforceable provisions in the contracts to compel the government to ensure that the prime contractor, Naval Group, provided that work to local businesses in this country. So we have a promise by the government, an announcement by the government, but no delivery—an announcement before the election, an undertaking to the Australian people; and yet after the election we find there is no enforceable provision inside that contract to compel Naval Group to provide work and business to our defence industry.
What we have now seen, as a result of that deficiency, is them seeking to retrofit the contract. What they have suggested is that they have secured that commitment now. But what we saw, what was revealed in Senate estimates yesterday, was that the government has, firstly, despite its promises, not seen the provisions of the contract that have been inserted, apparently, into that contract. What was revealed at Senate estimates yesterday is that not one minister has actually seen the words that were apparently included to ensure that local businesses secured sufficient work and were able to grow as a result of that. Nothing has been forthcoming. There is no accountability, no transparency, and now we find that not one minister—not the Minister for Defence, not the Minister for Defence Industry, not the acting defence minister—has actually seen the words that were apparently added to that contract.
Why should we believe this government when it comes to this matter, given the failures we have seen in the past? Why should defence industry in this country invest in this area without it being fully transparent that there is sufficient work for them? It's incumbent on the government to explain exactly what is happening with respect to this contract. Not only has nobody in the cabinet seen the words that are supposed to be now included in this contract with the very, very large French prime contractor; but also there is no way of us understanding whether that content, even if it is in the contract, will secure the commitment of at least 60 per cent for local businesses. The problem we have with that is that that promise is hollow if we're not sure about the terms of that contract.
There is no accountability, no transparency, no confidence in the government in relation to this matter. That is a real, real problem. We don't know if Australian industry content is on the right trajectory until the third or fourth submarine due in the mid-2030s. So we will not even know, unless there's more accountability by this government, for 15 years. It will take us 15 years to be assured of whether that's a commitment. That is not sufficient. You cannot rely on that as a result of the government's very hollow promise.
The problem with the government is it made commitments even though it didn't secure the provisions. There's been no focus by the government on its job. These matters should have been resolved, determined, at the beginning. When you enter into a contract they should be secured, and it should be fully understood so that the defence industry know that they will be part of the supply chain and part of this contract in a proper way. But that hasn't been done, and this attempt to fit it retrospectively is very, very dodgy. It's very, very unclear and, indeed, we don't know the details.
For example, apparently there are penalties if Naval Group do not provide local content as agreed; but we don't know the quantum of the penalties. So we don't know whether the prime contractor will say, 'We'll just build the penalties into the costs and not provide that local content.' If the penalties are not high enough to ensure that Naval Group provide local businesses the work, then why will they necessarily engage with local businesses?
If the penalties are negligible and not going to deter them from acting in contravention of the terms of the contract, then how can we be assured that local businesses will be in receipt of that work? Well, we cannot be assured, and the government have not given us any reason to believe that they have fixed this problem.
We have a Minister for Defence who, of course, is absent, and that's for medical reasons. We have rumours abounding that the defence minister is about to lose her job to the Minister for Home Affairs. We have an acting defence minister who has not understood or fully followed the current problems. We have a government that are completely unable to focus on the biggest expenditure, when it comes to contracts, in this nation's history. They must do better. They must make sure that businesses in this country are provided sufficient work out of the billions of dollars of taxpayers' money that are building our defence assets and our defence capability. If that does not happen, then we will not see businesses grow, we will not see sovereign capability enhanced and we will not see sufficient jobs for workers in this country. It will come down to just the abject failure of this government to do what it promised to do before the last election and continues to promise, without any confidence by anyone that it has done what it promised.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Kingsford Smith has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.