Thursday, 27 May 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Second Reading
I'm pleased to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and the related bills before the chamber and also to the Morrison government's economic plan to secure Australia's economy from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our plan will create jobs, guarantee essential services and build a more secure and resilient Australia. It's already working. Unemployment has fallen to 5.5 per cent and the Australian economy has rebounded at the fastest rate on record, with more people in work now than at the start of the pandemic in March of last year. So, while there's more work to do, we do need to stick to this plan to support individuals, households and businesses to rebuild our economy.
This budget will deliver tax relief to 10 million Australians, support businesses in training new employees through the JobTrainer fund, commit $110 billion over the next decade to a national infrastructure pipeline, strengthen our communications network and boost workforce participation by investing in child care. The Morrison government is also continuing to invest in essential services, especially in our health and aged-care sectors—two very critical areas to my electorate. This includes a $17.7 billion investment into aged care following the recent royal commission, supporting hardworking providers to deliver improved care for our seniors.
A key measure of the budget is the extension of the tax offset for 10 million low- and middle-income earners for a further year, which means that eligible workers will benefit from tax relief of up to $1,080 for individuals and $2,160 for couples during the 2021-22 financial year. This includes around 55,400 residents in my electorate. This will result in more spending to stimulate our local economy and boost our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. For businesses, we are extending the temporary full expensing incentive for another year, which will allow around 16,600 businesses in my electorate to deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets of any value in the year they are installed until 30 June 2023 Around 5,700 businesses across the Robertson electorate will also be able to use the extended loss carry-back measure to support cash flow. These policies will allow our businesses to create more jobs and invest back into our local economy.
I welcomed recently the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, the Hon. Stuart Robert, to the Central Coast to meet with some small-business owners in my local area and hear how these measures will directly benefit them. This includes a great local business, Cakes by Kyla. They do fantastic cupcakes and sell them from their shop in the heart of Gosford. When we asked how the Morrison government's budget would benefit her business, Kyla said that she was able to use the instant asset write-off to buy a new car, which will help her to deliver her cakes and cupcakes across the coast. I'm proud to be part of this government that is supporting local business owners like Kyla who give so much back to our community and who also help to create more jobs for local people.
The Morrison government's also supporting business through investing an additional $500 million into the JobTrainer Fund. This will support a further 450,000 new training places to upskill those seeking employment and meet skills shortages. We're extending the highly successful boosting apprenticeship commencements wage subsidy for a further six months with a $2.7 billion investment supporting new apprentices and trainees who commence before 31 March 2022. We're already supporting 1,740 apprentices in the electorate of Robertson, and these new measures will provide many more opportunities for employment as an apprentice or trainee on the Central Coast.
The Morrison government has a strong focus on investing in the nation's infrastructure, and in this budget we are delivering a record $110 billion in infrastructure pipeline over the next 10 years, prioritising and supporting local jobs and improving the lives of Australians through faster travel time and better access to services. The budget commits an additional $15.2 billion over the next 10 years to road, rail and community infrastructure projects across the country, including $52.8 million towards improving two intersections along Manns Road in West Gosford and Narara in my electorate of Robertson. Upgrades to this very busy arterial road will benefit both motorists and businesses across the Central Coast and are expected to support around 150 direct and indirect jobs.
There are so many local projects that are supported by funding from recent budgets, and I'd like to take this opportunity to update the House on a number of these across the Central Coast. We're transforming the Peninsula Recreation Precinct in Umina Beach with a previously committed $8.25 million upgrade of the existing Umina Beach Skate Park, including a BMX track and new sporting facilities for the Umina United football club, the Southern Spirit Cricket Club, the Umina Beach Bunnies Rugby League Club and the Umina tennis club. This recreational and sporting upgrade is really important to our community. I do hear and understand the frustration from sports clubs and community members that construction has not yet started on this project, but I'm assured by Central Coast Council, who is responsible for the delivery of these improvements, that they have advised that consultation on the facilities is underway and some design work still needs to be completed before construction can start. I'm certainly urging that this happens as soon and as quickly as possible and will continue to work closely with council to see this project completed.
The new digital scoreboard at Woy Woy Oval is complete. Five years ago, I was pleased to open the state-of-the-art facility upgrade at Woy Woy Oval. It included a 600-seat grandstand, change rooms, clubhouse, ticket booth and kiosk, but there was one thing delivering. Delivery of the scoreboard has completed this upgrade, making the oval a great destination for local and regional events across the peninsula. The Rogers Park amenities building in Woy Woy is also being redeveloped, benefiting hundreds of young people and their families, who have been asking for these facilities to be improved for far too long. We've committed $800,000 to improve the building for clubs like Southern Spirit Cricket Club, Peninsula Junior Touch Association, Peninsula Swans Junior AFL and the Woy Woy Roosters rugby league club. I've been advised by Central Coast Council that they expect to commence construction in August of this year and complete the upgrades by March of next year.
In Terrigal, the recently opened Trojans rugby clubhouse is set to become a centre of excellence for Australian amateur sports in our community after undergoing a comprehensive redevelopment, and this project was partly funded with a $275,000 grant under the National Stronger Regions Fund. Facility upgrades and new women's change rooms at James Browne Oval are now complete. This upgrade is so much more than just a place for sport. It's about enhancing team spirit, creating a place for players and locals to long and ensuring that women's sport is better supported on the peninsula. Federal government funding of more than $488,000 for the project also included redeveloping the club's canteen facilities, creating a better working environment for volunteers, parents, players and supporters. This project is in addition to the $120,000 federal government investment under the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program to improve and upgrade irrigation and drainage facilities at that oval.
Upgrades to the Lemon Grove Netball Courts clubhouse and amenities are on the way, benefitting hundreds of locals at the Woy Woy Peninsula Netball Association. Improvements include new change rooms with disability access, a club room so that members can hold functions after game days, a redeveloped canteen, a new first aid facility and a shelter and seating area for players and the public to watch games. The $1.45 million upgrade will be open to players in the next financial year. I look forward to joining players in the new clubhouse come next season.
We're also upgrading some of the Central Coast's worst roads and most congested intersections under our $86.5 million Central Coast Roads Package. Of the 29 projects that were funded in this package, 22 are now complete or under construction, and the remaining roads are in the planning stage with Central Coast Council. I'll continue to work with the Central Coast Council to ensure that the remaining projects are delivered across the Central Coast as soon as possible. A $35 million commitment for commuter car parking at Gosford and Woy Woy is locked in with detailed planning underway, which will help determine time frames for delivery. This work is being finalised, and I will have more to say once the final sites for each car park are identified.
The Morrison government recognises the importance of having access to reliable mobile and internet coverage, which is why we're continuing to invest in communications infrastructure to help make this possible. We're providing improved mobile coverage to thousands of commuters on the Central Coast and Newcastle line, and free wi-fi at 19 stations. The last stages of this project are now complete, and we're already seeing improved service on the train line for our hardworking commuters who leave early in the morning from their homes and return home to their families late at night. We're also delivering for residents along the Hawkesbury River in Spencer, Marlow and Wendoree Park with a new mobile base station recently turned on, which will significantly improve the ability of residents to make calls, browse the internet, stay connected with loved ones, conduct business, access education and, of course, remain connected, particularly during times of emergency when connection through the mobile network is so crucial.
This budget also includes reforms to the childcare sector to make it more affordable and accessible to families across the country and allow mums and dads to return to the workforce sooner, including an additional $1.7 billion investment over the next four years through the strategic reform agreement to cut the costs of living for about 250,000 families across the country, add up 300,000 working hours each week and boost GDP by $1.5 billion each year. Locally, these reforms will benefit over 1,590 families living in Robertson, meaning more affordable care for children and enabling parents to have more options for returning to work.
We're also delivering improvements in health care, including investments in respiratory clinics, pathology testing and tracing, and the continuation of the important telehealth services which have been really welcomed in my electorate. There have been, I understand, over 391,000 telehealth consultations in my electorate through Medicare since the start of the pandemic. I'm pleased to see these services are being extended. We've committed to fund every medicine on the PBS recommended by medical experts, meaning lifesaving treatments will be more available to Australians. Last year, there were more than 2.1 million free or subsidised medicines delivered in Robertson through the PBS, and I know what an important impact this has on the lives of residents and families across the Central Coast.
On aged care, we have committed to record funding, with an additional $17.76 billion over five years in response to the final report of the aged-care royal commission. This will help up to 30,918 senior Australians who live in my electorate of Robertson.
There are a number of fantastic initiatives underway to provide medical care and training to local residents. For example, the construction of the jointly funded $85 million Central Coast Medical School and Research Institute in Gosford, which is complete and ready to open to students, clinicians and researchers in July of this year. The building includes state-of-the-art facilities available for students on the Central Coast who wish to study medicine. Building on this project, we've committed $18 million towards stage 2 of the university precinct in Gosford CBD, with the funds going towards building a multicampus university. This is a significant step, and I'm looking forward to working with all partners involved, particularly the University of Newcastle, on the next stage of this important initiative.
Finally, the Morrison government has also committed $9 million towards a project that's very close to my heart: the Glen for Women, a drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation program. I'm advised that a tender for the construction of the centre has been signed and that the build is expected to be completed by early 2022. I really cannot speak enough, not only of the ripple effect that the work of Joe and the boys at the Glen do for those who go to the Glen and become part of the family that surrounds the Glen, but also of the ripple effect in our community and across our nation. It is an absolute honour to be able to have played a small part in being a voice for the community to see this very important funding made possible.
In conclusion, the budget is helping to secure Australia's economic recovery by creating jobs, guaranteeing essential services and building a better nation, which includes investing in projects that do matter to Australians in our local community, particularly in my electorate of Robertson. This recovery plan is working, it's driving down unemployment and boosting opportunity, and that's why I believe we should stick to this plan to build a better, stronger Australia. I commend these bills to the House.
I'll be touching on a number of issues in my remarks to the House about the federal budget and the government's so-called plan, as we've just heard, and why we have serious concerns about the economic recovery, and in the areas of health, aged care, child care and infrastructure and the impacts that that has had, or the lack of information and details and announcements for the community that I represent in the parliament of Australia through the south-west suburbs of Brisbane and one of the fastest growing corridors in the country in the Ipswich and Greater Springfield region.
But I would like to take this moment, before I get into the health details of the budget, and aged care in particular, to pay tribute at the beginning of my remarks today to the passing of a great Queenslander, Sir Llew Edwards, who passed away, as we heard from the tributes in the parliament yesterday from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I was privileged to know Sir Llew and some of his family for many years. He was a great Queenslander, former health minister, former treasurer and leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party in Queensland. He represented the seat of Ipswich from 1972. In his role as a local member he shaped the modern city of Ipswich and the wonderful legacy of South Bank—he was appointed by the Hawke government as chairman—which was a turning point for our city's history. Although he shaped politics in the seventies and eighties, after parliament he went on to become one of the architects of contemporary Brisbane through various boards and as chancellor of the University of Queensland.
I extend my sympathies and condolences to his beautiful family and in particular, his wife, Lady Edwards, who has had a remarkable career in her own right. I quote from Lady Edwards in the media yesterday:
Llew was the most wonderful man and I loved him dearly. He fought the battle with dementia as best he could but despite the disease, he was always the man I knew and loved. Despite how busy he was and how many commitments he had, I always felt like the most important person in the world to Llew … I will miss him terribly as will his children and grandchildren.
I am a good friend of one of his sons Pastor Mark Edwards, from Cityhope Church in the Ipswich area. When I messaged Mark yesterday, I know how sad he was in losing his dad but also a wonderful grandfather as well. I extend my condolences to his family and pay tribute to him as a great Queenslander.
The budget in the debate today is a shameless political fix. I want to place on record a number of concerns that residents have raised with me regarding the budget's key announcements and what they will mean for my community. While we know this government is very, very good at making headline announcements, the actual delivery and implementation is where this government, after eight long years, continues to fail the people of Australia. The government has overseen record low wages growth, chronically high underemployment and still doesn't have a credible plan to create secure jobs. So we've seen, over the long eight years, a crisis in aged care, an energy crisis, a housing crisis and a skills crisis. We have seen a lot of announcements, but not a lot of follow-through from this government.
One of the first things I want to unpack in my remarks to the parliament today is the underdelivery of infrastructure, particularly for the state of Queensland. The Morrison government's 2021-22 budget has ripped off Queenslanders. We know that announcements were dropped before the budget was even delivered. The stark reality was that $1.6 billion for infrastructure was announced to be delivered for Queensland, but New South Wales were to receive $3 billion and South Australia $2 billion. So the Liberal states of New South Wales and South Australia get $1.4 billion and $2 billion in this budget. But, when the funding was announced after the budget, it was revealed that half of the $1.6 billion for infrastructure will not be delivered within the four years of the forward estimates. So it's not $1.6 billion announced in the budget; it's half of that. There are a whole range of projects in my electorate that are desperately in need of funding. We know that the Ipswich City Council has been lobbying hard this federal government. I was pleased to see the Mayor of Ipswich, Teresa Harding, come to Canberra with her wish list for the people of Ipswich, and she has been ignored.
The first issues I want to talk about are the Ipswich motorway and the rail corridor. My residents have been sitting in traffic for far too long. In light of the government spending $100 billion in the budget and racking up $1 trillion in debt, locals in my electorate are right to ask what they are getting for this. What is the return on investment that they're seeing from this government? The government has completely ignored projects that local residents have been crying out for. There are zero dollars for the Ipswich to Springfield rail corridor. The state government put money on the table, and the Ipswich City Council put money on the table for the initial planning study. We were waiting for the federal government to look at a commitment of around $1½ million. Zero! There are zero dollars on the table for this transformation project. This project would service high-growth residential areas and the Ipswich Showgrounds—the site of future exhibitions, entertainment events and evacuation centres—but, most importantly, it would provide long-term jobs in construction and would be a big boost to our local economy. This rail corridor was extended by the previous Labor state government from the Richlands train station to Springfield and then Springfield Central. That has completely opened up the Greater Springfield area. We've seen record amounts of investment happening as a result of the building of that rail infrastructure and the Centenary Motorway duplication. But the next stage must happen. The growth through the Ripley corridor through the Greater Springfield area dictates this. We all know this. It is a significant project. But this government fails to invest in the greater Ipswich region, and we've seen that time and time again.
Equally, the Ipswich motorway was completely ignored by the Howard government for years and years and years. Not a dollar was spent on the Ipswich motorway. The election of the Rudd and Gillard governments delivered that funding for the upgrade of the Ipswich motorway, thanks to the advocacy of Shayne Neumann, the federal member for Blair and Anthony Albanese, who was then infrastructure minister. The residents have now been able to get home more quickly. I was privileged to help open the next stage of the Ipswich motorway with the Premier of Queensland in a joint Commonwealth-state announcement. No-one from the federal government bothered to turn up, of course, but I was pleased to recognise the federal government and the minister in my remarks to the media—I give credit when we see joint partnerships.
But that took a long time to come; we are still waiting for the final section to be built. For residents, the Oxley interchange in particular is a nightmare in the mornings. I know this because I live up the road and residents and neighbours in my street have told me how long it takes them to get to Oxley State School. Whether they're trying to get to work or whether they're just trying to get into the city, they know that this is one of the worst bottlenecks in Brisbane. So I again call on the infrastructure minister and the federal government to make sure their priority and their investment.
Queensland has been short changed by this government. We haven't got the investment that our state needs. The Prime Minister seems more intent on coming to Queensland and picking fights with the Premier of Queensland over and over again.
Mr Entsch interjecting—
I will take the interjection from the member for Leichhardt, who says that he thinks that's an appropriate way to engage with governments. I don't think so. I think we work best when we work together, and what we're seeing over and over again is that this government is more interested in the politics and more interested in the political fights and is not actually coming up with the solutions and the outcomes that residents want. I know from speaking to my local chambers of commerce that they are also on board and want to see that final piece of the Ipswich Motorway puzzle upgraded. They know that they've been lobbying long and hard for what's needed.
In my remaining remarks I want to touch on aged care. This is an issue of critical importance to local residents. In the budget, we were all waiting for the government to offer a comprehensive answer to some of the devastating findings of the royal commission. The Commonwealth is responsible for our aged-care system, but we know that the Prime Minister has refused to step up to the job. Once again, he is blaming the states. We saw a tragedy unfold during the COVID crisis. The sad fact was that 685 older Australians passed away in nursing homes during the coronavirus episode. Local residents are really worried about the future of aged care in the community where they live.
I was really pleased to have Clare O'Neil, the shadow minister for senior Australians and aged-care services, visit Redbank Palms, a great local residential community in Redbank in my electorate, along with our state member, Lance McCallum. We were able to hear firsthand the concerns and fears of local residents there. I may add that, while I was there, I asked them who had been vaccinated. This is an over-60s community. I said, 'Who's been vaccinated?' There would've been about 60 or maybe 65 people there; two people put up their hands. The government made a commitment that we were going to see four million Australians vaccinated and that people in residential and aged-care facilities would all be done by Easter. The fact is that this government had two jobs to do this year: to roll out the vaccine and to provide quarantine facilities.
In our home state of Queensland, where the Queensland government has put forward sensible quarantine solutions and has put sensible quarantine suggestions on the table, we've seen once again that the government is more interested in picking a fight with the Queensland government. I understand that Toowoomba is off the table and that he's not interested in that proposal. What is the plan for Queensland? He described Toowoomba as a desert. I don't think the people of the Darling Downs and Groom would particularly think that they lived in a desert. I know that, when the Carnival of Flowers comes around at the end of the year, that's not when they have a desert! But what is the solution for dealing with quarantine in Queensland? What is this government's solution? We've asked these questions in the parliament, and time and time again the federal government has simply said, 'We're not interested in dealing with quarantine, despite it being a constitutional responsibility.'
This goes back to the issue of responsible management for our older Australians. We've read the report Neglect. We understand the chronic underfunding of aged-care services. Locals in the Oxley electorate want to know that their parents and grandparents are safe and properly cared for.
The first thing we will do, which I'm really proud of is, to see the recognition for aged-care workers, the people who have gone beyond the call of duty during this pandemic and the people to whom we entrust all of our loved ones. I'm really proud to say that an Albanese Labor government would lift aged-care wages by 25 per cent and commit to minimum staff ratios. Everyone should age with dignity and safety, and that's exactly the feedback that I've heard from my local residents when on the ground with the shadow aged-care minister.
Whether it be how we treat our most vulnerable towards the end of their lives with the comfort and protection that they deserve, or whether it be at the other end of the spectrum, dealing with child care—an issue the government doesn't particularly talk about—we know that only a Labor government will deliver. Labor will deliver a policy for cheaper child care which will help out 97 per cent of families by scrapping the $10,500 subsidy cap, lifting the maximum subsidy rate to 90 per cent and increasing subsidy rates for every family earning less than $530,000. This is about making it easier for mums, children and working families to get ahead, and that is the clear feedback that my community has delivered as a result of this budget. They want a government on their side. They want a government that's going to focus on their issues, not simply on managing political fixes.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people, the traditional owners of the land known as the electorate of Monash. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
National Reconciliation Week gives us all an opportunity to play our part as we continue to try as a country to grapple with the mistakes of the past. Australia is shamed by the victimisation of our Indigenous peoples through the ongoing effects of colonisation. From the stolen generations to our system of democracy, numerous policies, interventions and commissions have failed to remedy entrenched disadvantage and social dislocation caused by the brutality of colonisation. We must face this squarely. We must acknowledge our past and ongoing role in the sufferings of First Nations peoples. Our communal responsibility is to build strong connections with our Indigenous communities, based on open communication and understanding. Imagine if the need for change were acknowledged and acted upon at a personal, community, state and national level. We could move mountains.
Our Indigenous peoples extended the hand of reconciliation when they gave us the generous Uluru Statement from the Heart. As a nation, we should show grace and embrace it. We need to humble ourselves and accept into our hearts and minds the wisdom of people who have lived on this land for more than 60,000 years. Reconciliation is defined as the restoration of friendly relations, and that is exactly what we as a nation and as individuals should be aiming for. As I have said before, including the voice of the First Nations people in national policy should be non-negotiable for the government. It is essential for national healing. What are we afraid of? Reconciliation is more than a word. It means nothing without action. This is just as I see it.
One of the vulnerabilities that we have, as was borne out in the pandemic—and I'm going to pull a lot of my conversation out of Robert Gottliebsen's article this week that talked about coastal shipping and international processes—is the fact that we do not have a homogeneous fleet of our own Australian flagged ships in times of trouble. The article says:
Over the past 20 or 30 years Australia has based its industrial and retail systems on a global "just in time" supply chain network.
And for the most part it worked and led to a vast array goods at low prices arriving when required, so reducing the need for large stocks. This gave consumers greater choice, curbed our inflation and boosted corporate profits.
And it made us complacent.
But in the pandemic, the system broke down and became much less reliable and far more costly. Australian companies are only now starting to tell the market how they are being affected.
Suddenly, in large areas of Australian society we are realising that in recent decades we have forgotten the lessons of our history.
and our own shipping fleet.
But now the pandemic and the Chinese bans on our exports appear to be combining to change our attitudes.
Australians are increasing their purchases of Australian-made goods—
leading to promotion of goods made locally.
Few Australians realised that our shipping lifeline was based on a very complex ownership and operational system with the ships owned in one country and registered in another.
… … …
Integrated into that global system was our own coastal shipping.
Unlike Canada and the US, we use global ships to undertake almost all our local shipping. In theory, local regulations prevent global shipping on the coast, but all that is required to use global ships is to ask permission. It is almost always granted. We have only token numbers of local ships.
… … …
Then came two unexpected developments. The first was that whereas the Covid-19 restrictions substantially reduced the demand for services, the demand for goods surged. We saw that occur dramatically in Australia with spending on home renovation and building. But it was a global trend.
… … …
Sometimes it seems as though the Chinese control the distribution of our goods because they control so much of the trade.
Our first tangible response—
which I applaud the government on—
has been to prevent the closure of the Geelong and Brisbane oil refineries. We realised that, while oil is not part of the container trade, the sort of forces we have seen in containers could just as easily be applied to oil tankers—especially if there is military conflict.
But the Australian vulnerability goes much further than simply oil. Our total international and local shipping is in the hands of the global shipping cartel complex. We have no independence whatsoever.
… … …
Retailers are now assessing the long-term attraction of promoting Australian-made goods. Like shipping, modern machinery has lessened the labour cost component.
In practical terms one of the lasting legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic might be that Australia will go back to its history and devise better ways to lessen the dangers of isolation.
The fact is we need our own Australian-flagged merchant fleet. Probably 12 ships. Too much to ask? Let's try for six, just to cover our bases. This is affordable. It protects us against dependence on others. And it lets us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our leaders knew what was needed a century ago. A century ago, they knew what we needed. Are we today sleepwalking to chaos and further vulnerability?
I suffer from Dupuytren's disease, a hereditary disease that curls up the hands. If you've attended a nursing home and gone from room to room, you'll probably find people in that nursing home with curled up fingers. If you haven't seen it, you will. Those of my age do. To address the issue of my fingers curling up like that, every now and again I go to my plastic surgeon, and he cleans out the inside of my hands around the tendons and straightens out the fingers—so I can do that, instead of that, which can be very difficult when you go to shake hands and your hands are all curled up. As you can imagine, as a politician that's fairly difficult.
It's miraculous the way this master of manipulation of the body is able to work. His name is Tam Dieu. He's Vietnamese. I asked him one day, while they were putting me to sleep to do the next hand or the next finger or whatever: 'What's your background, Tam? You were born here, I take it?' He said: 'Oh, no. I was with my family in Vietnam, and my parents said, "You are to go with your uncle on a boat to Australia. There's nothing for you here, and we're in danger."' He went with his uncle, hopped on a boat and made the perilous trip to Australia. He arrived here penniless, with his uncle. No family, no education, no nothing. Now he's one of the most brilliant surgeons in Australia. He takes off all my cancer spots. A couple of you would be nearly old enough to know what we did to ourselves as children, got out in the sun and did all those things, so I have bits taken off me all the time. I asked him: 'How do you know which bits to take off? How much of it is instinct and how much of it is your skill?' He said: 'Russell, I take a bit off you before it becomes a health problem. At the moment it's only a skin problem. If I leave it, it will become a health problem, so I like to deal with that early. That's the way I work.' He's one of the most skilful, talented, gentle men I know. He'd be at the top of my tree. He was a boat person. He came by boat.
I'll tell you another story. I have a friend. She's been ill for a long time. I was talking to her about boat people, refugees and those sorts of things and these terrible, horrible people smugglers. And this woman, who's a lawyer, a hotelier, a builder, a creator, with talented kids, wealth, style and living the Australian dream, her parents came out here from Serbia. She said to me: 'Russell, if it weren't for people smugglers, I wouldn't be here. They smuggled us out of Serbia through the hills one night, got us out and that's how we got to Australia.' There are two sides to every story.
The contribution that refugees have made to this country should never be underestimated. How we treat them in this country, how we treat people in this country who have done nothing but seek a better life yet have been imprisoned for coming up to 11 years, is something that I as an Australian can't be proud of. We can't walk away. As a friend of mine once said, 'There comes a time when you can't walk past the pile of rubbish; you've got to clean it up.' It's time for this nation to look where the rubbish is, confront it and see how we're going to deal with the lives of individual people who may go on to make a marvellous contribution to this country and look at the opportunities we might give to people who are already here but not allowed to work when we are desperate for employees right across every sector of this nation because of the results of COVID. Why can't we be sensible and let them work? Let them work. It's not something that's so great to ask—that while someone on a bridging visa is here in this country they get an opportunity to work. The benefits for us are unending. We have nothing to fear from these people being employed while they are on a bridging visa. In fact, we need them right now. There's not a business that I know of that hasn't got staff shortages and opportunities for people right across the board. I'll leave those thoughts with you today. They may not go down well with the people who have the responsibilities, but that's just as I see it.
I want to talk a bit about the budget that's just been passed as I'm speaking on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, obviously. So here's the thing: when you scratch just a little bit under the surface of this budget, when you go beyond the hype and the headlines, it really is another short-sighted coalition budget that really does nothing for average Australians. Under this budget, real wages still go backwards. Under this budget, the highest income earners in Australia will enjoy a permanent tax cut while Australians on modest incomes only get a temporary, one-off cut. Under this budget the government have spent big to cover their political tracks, to cover their political problems, but they don't have the vision or the courage to invest in our economy, our environment or our universities. They've spent the big bucks. We're talking about $100 billion and around a trillion dollars of debt by 2024. For what? To pay for their political mistakes? It's another marketing exercise that tries to rebrand the mismanagement and the missed opportunities that define this government—another political fix. It's another budget with no vision, no plan—none of the economic reform that this country needs. People in my electorate of Wills see through this. They want a better Australia and a better world for future generations. But not the government; they just want to keep their own jobs. It's purely political.
The Prime Minister says that net zero emissions won't be achieved in cafes and wine bars—despite his own electorate office being on top of one. We know that Australia must invest in renewable energy to tackle climate change and create thousands of new jobs, the jobs of the future. Everyone seems to know this. Ask a business leader, an economist or a scientist. Ask anyone except for the members of this government, who somehow don't see that answer. The budget had nothing for Australia around taking real action on climate change. There was nothing about when Australia might reach net zero emissions. There was no new funding for renewable energy. It no longer needs government investment, according to the government. And, while neglecting renewable energy and infrastructure, the government continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on projects that are not commercially viable, making decisions driven by ideology and politics, not energy needs. The government really are the bunyip aristocracy. They're planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Kurri Kurri gas plant, a project that even their own experts don't support. The government's hand-picked chair of the Energy Security Board says that the Kurri Kurri project doesn't stack up because it's 'expensive power'—that's a quote! And the proponents admit that that plant would be used only two per cent of the time and create only 10 full-time jobs. Six hundred million dollars is being spent for that. If that's not political, I don't know what is. It's a bad deal. There's $30 million for a company owned by the iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest. I'm not sure why Andrew Forrest, a billionaire, needs public money. It simply doesn't make sense.
While the world acts on climate change and transitions to renewable energy, this government drags its feet. When you compare this budget to the investment that other countries are making, you see we really do risk being left behind. What a missed opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker. It's quite baffling that, after a disaster-ridden 12 months of increasingly severe bushfires and floods and the COVID crisis—after all the things we've experienced—creating an urgent need to invest in economic reform that will create new, secure jobs here in Australia, jobs in renewables, the government have done none of it. They're not interested.
We've seen the election of President Joe Biden in the United States and his ambitious pro-climate commitments, including US$2.25 trillion in infrastructure funding that focuses on renewable energy. The government had the opportunity to invest in Australia's future in this budget—to do things differently as we rebuild postpandemic. But what did they do? They stuck with the status quo. They did not have the vision or the courage to make those investments, to grow the economic pie, to increase the tax base into the future. We know that investment in higher education and in renewable energy infrastructure are the types of investments—not spending, investments—that have a return in jobs and economic growth. But what they did was spend to save their political hides. What they did was spend in areas where they thought they had a political problem. No vision, no courage.
We're left with our state governments taking the lead. The ACT and Victoria have pledged investments more akin to what you'd see from leading countries in this space, as a proportion of their GDP. Victoria last year pledged $1.6 billion to clean energy investment. And, as of 2020, the ACT is already running on 100 per cent renewable energy, with further plans to create city-wide networks of renewable energy batteries and a $100 million investment. South Australia and Tasmania—I'm not being partisan here—are thinking beyond 100 per cent renewables, recognising the opportunity to export. Projects like sonnen's battery assembly plant in South Australia and the Kidston solar and pumped hydro project in Queensland show that it is possible. All you need is political foresight, the right investment, the courage and the vision to make it happen.
Our states shouldn't have to be doing the heavy lifting on this. The federal government really needs to lift its game. Imagine what we could do if the federal government of Australia stood up, took charge, took responsibility and didn't try to mitigate all its political risk by handing everything over to the states and territories, outsourcing anything that's too difficult to avoid paying any kind of price that might hurt them politically. That's not leadership. That's not courage. There's no vision. There's a lack of any semblance of showing leadership for Australia.
So, what would we do? Unlike the Liberal Party and the Nats, the coalition, we do live in the real world. We want to see Australia take urgent action for Australians and for the world. When we're faced with a global challenge, we don't shy away and say, 'Oh, it's all too hard.' We say, 'Let's be leaders; let's show global leadership.' And Labor is not afraid to step up and lead, because we have a plan. We will make Australia a renewable energy superpower. We've said it, but we're going to back up that rhetoric, that statement, with real policies, substantive policies. If we are elected, our Rewiring the Nation plan will invest $20 billion to rebuild and modernise the grid for the renewable age—important work to update and upgrade our infrastructure to make it workable for renewable energy. This will create thousands of new construction jobs, many in our regions, where it's needed. It will revitalise traditional industries like steel and aluminium and will allow growth in new sectors like hydrogen and battery production.
On top of this, our Power to the People plan will install 400 community batteries across the country to power up to 100,000 households, taking full advantage of the cheap solar energy and solar power that is so abundant in our country. Many Australians who live in apartments cannot install solar panels, and that's been a problem. The Power to the People policy allows these households to draw from excess electricity stored in those community batteries. It makes sense. It's a $200 million investment to cut power bills, cut emissions and reduce pressure on the electricity grid.
A Labor government will also introduce an electric car discount to make electric cars cheaper so that more families who want to can afford them and so that we can also reduce emissions. I know, Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, you've done much good work in this policy space and understand that this is a very important path on policy.
For those looking to do an apprenticeship, a Labor government will invest $100 million to support 10,000 new energy apprenticeships to tailor skills training to the specific needs of new energy industries. Labor will also invest $10 million in the New Energy Skills Program.
This is the future of Australia, the future that we should be investing in. We can reach net zero emissions. We can do it by investing massively in renewable energy and infrastructure, and we can do it by being honest with workers about how our economy is shifting and by creating jobs for them, with substantive investment in the economy and in renewable energy infrastructure. We can use this policy base to give us the moral standing to push the other big emitters, the global big emitters, to reduce their global emissions. That is an important task, but I'm not seeing much leadership. Let's forget about the domestic lack of leadership; there's in the much happening on the international stage either. And it's such a shame because it was Australians that invented solar panels. We've got the know-how, the initiative, the innovation. Talking about leadership on the international stage, it was Labor governments that led international agreements to protect Antarctica and the ozone. We can do that kind of work again as a responsible middle power, as a nation that has in its DNA that kind of global leadership which actually improves the lives of our citizens and our neighbours and makes for a better world. We've done that before. We just need leadership and courage, which are in such short supply with this government.
We still have an opportunity—but I'm not holding my breath—at the end of the year, at COP26, to show some of that leadership. Climate conferences come and go with barely a whisper from this government. But this year, as John Kerry said, COP26 is the world's 'last best chance' to avoid the climate crisis. It is critical that we take action. It is critical that we actually show leadership. It is critical that we engage at the very least in what our international partners, neighbours, allies and friends around the world negotiate and agree upon. We've got to be part of that because the science tells us that if we do not reduce emissions we will be really struggling to keep that average global temperature down to the limits that we agreed to at the Paris conference. If you believe the science, if you accept and acknowledge the reality that there is a problem and it's existential, then it's incumbent upon us and our government to actually show some leadership when it comes to international negotiation. We need to come to the table with some ambition beyond just engaging.
If we do miss this chance, if we don't act, it might be too late—too late for our neighbours, particularly in the Pacific, like Tuvalu, Kiribati and all the island neighbours that we have. We're not just acting for us; we're acting for our neighbours as well. We do have an obligation to the international community and our neighbours. Australians already know the impact on their lives and our nation's future. So we need to see some of this courage, some of this leadership, some of this vision from this government when it comes to these big issues. Don't just play the politics down to the wire to look after your jobs. Show leadership. It might not be popular, it might not be a in a focus group for the Prime Minister, but maybe he could actually lead the argument and people will follow. That's true leadership; not outsourcing it to others. I hope that we see some of this play out over the coming months because we do need to act.
After starting out in dairy manufacturing around a decade ago, Robin and Karen Dornauf began dabbling in growing berries, and Hillwood Berries was born. A booming business now covering more than 40 hectares, growing strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, Hillwood Berries has over 45 full-time employees from the local region while also employing over 350 seasonal workers. It was a pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to Hillwood Berries last week to inspect their new expansion plans, including almost 15 new hectares set aside for additional crops—plans brought forward thanks to the federal government's instant asset write-off and other business measures. These expansion plans mean more jobs and more critical investment in our local economy.
Managing director of Hillwood Berries Simon Dornauf told us during the visit that the instant tax write-off has been instrumental in enabling their business to undertake two major projects that may otherwise have been delayed for over two years. The first was a project in renewable energy, with an investment of $400,000 on solar panels, which will provide 70 per cent of the power for their berry production. Additionally, a further $3.6 million will be spent in the development of an additional 15 hectares of covered farm capacity, which, as Simon told us on the day, gives job security to their workers. With the covering of the fruit, it can be picked day in and day out, regardless of the conditions. This will allow the business to employ about 75 full-time equivalents for that project, because of the instant asset write-off. Hillwood Berries is a significant employer in my local region and the investment in the extension of the instant asset write-off for businesses like Hillwood is strong evidence that we're securing our economic recovery.
It's not only our agricultural businesses like Hillwood Berries that are benefiting from the government's economic policies. There's plenty of proof that Tasmania is leading the charge when it comes to top-notch distillery products in the Australian market. Of the 300 locally owned distilleries across the country, 52 are situated in Tasmania, producing some of the best whisky you can find. A number of Tasmanian distillers have seen their products named the best single malt whiskies in the world, and, in Northern Tasmania, we have some incredible award-winning gin that rivals the products of distillers across the country and the world over. Just like our local distillers, Abel Gin, Corra Linn, Darby Norris, Fannys Bay, Flinders Island, Furneaux, Tamar Valley, Negative and Turner Stillhouse, the majority of Australian distillers are in regional and rural areas, bringing economic benefits through farm production, manufacturing, regional tourism and hospitality. However, until recently, local distillers and small brewers faced a block to their economic growth due to the high excise tax. I was thrilled that the Treasurer answered the call for tax relief in the latest budget, with this growing sector now benefiting from a tripling of the excise fund from $100,000 to $350,000 per year. This significant announcement will allow our local brewers and distillers to keep more of what they earn, helping them to invest in their company and grow their workforce. Liane Darby, co-owner of the north-east distillery Darby Norris, told me that the change to the excise refund cap will have a positive impact on their burgeoning business. The excise cap increase will mean that they can further expand their business with new equipment and also look at hiring new staff.
Of course, it's not just investment in business that's creating a better future for my community and communities across Australia. Our commitment to ensuring the lives of women and children affected by family and domestic violence has been demonstrated in this budget with an historic expansion of support for vulnerable Australians. We're delivering an unprecedented boost to services supporting women and children through the $1 billion Women's Safety Package. This historic investment across 16 new women's safety measures will build on the work of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and will ensure a pathway to the new national plan starting in July next year. Part of this critical investment includes more than $160 million to provide financial support for women escaping violence. I recently sat on the committee inquiry into domestic and family violence, and it was very clear, through the numerous submissions made to that inquiry, that financial hardship, often brought about through coercive control, is a significant factor in whether or not a woman can escape an abusive relationship. The new escaping violence payment for women will provide women with access to up to $5,000 in financial assistance, and it is estimated that annually the program will help up to 12,000 women who need financial support to leave a violent relationship.
Importantly, there's also funding set aside for changing perpetrator behaviour and preventing violence before it begins. I've said many times in this place that, to truly move the dial on violence against women and children, we have to look at stopping the violence before it begins, and this begins with teaching respect. All violence against women begins with a fundamental lack of respect. We're allocating $35.1 million for a prevention package to expand national primary prevention campaigns, including a fourth phase of the award-winning national primary prevention campaign 'Let's stop it at the start', which encourages primary influencers of young people aged 10-17, such as parents, teachers and sporting leaders, to reflect on their own attitudes and to start conversations about respectful relationships and gender equality.
Additionally, there's a $129 million funding injection into specialised women's legal services which will support thousands of women and children to safely escape violent relationships, and that has been welcomed by women's legal advocates. As the CEO of Women's Legal Service Tasmania Yvette Cehtel told me, 'Women experiencing violence can take some comfort that they will have better access to justice and wraparound supports as a result of this budget. I also really appreciate that the work specialist women's services in this space have been valued and respected, especially following COVID-19 and the national debate around violence against women.'
It's important to remember that last year's budget, handed down just nine months ago, was the first step towards securing our country's economic recovery in the midst of this pandemic. This year's budget, laid out by the Treasurer earlier this month, is a road map to securing our economic recovery. While there are certainly still challenges facing our economy, particularly as we are clear that the pandemic is far from over, we are, as the Treasurer has said, better placed than nearly any other country to meet the challenges that lay ahead. Since the last budget, more than half a million jobs have been created. In the electorate of Bass, which I represent, around 40,200 taxpayers will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745 this year. This is as a result of the decision to extend the low and middle income tax offset to 2021-22. An extended and expanded JobTrainer Fund will support 500,000 new places to upskill jobseekers and young people. We already have 1,825 apprentices in Bass, and these new measures will lead to more opportunities for apprentices for trainees, with expanded wage subsidies.
Just like Hillwood Berries, more than 12,000 businesses in my region will be able to write off the full asset of any eligible asset they purchase. Additionally, around 3,000 businesses in Bass will be able to use the extended loss carry-back measure to support cash flow and confidence. This has helped business invest more in the local economy and to create local jobs.
The JobKeeper payment support of 3,400 businesses and 14,000 employees in Bass to help them through the pandemic and keep them connected to their place of work set the groundwork for the recovery. The tax-free cash flow boost has helped around 3,000 small and medium businesses, providing $135 million in payments to help businesses in northern Tasmania stay afloat. We're also providing an additional $67.7 million to boost assistance under the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme. The TFES will be expanded for eligible goods shipped to Tasmania by the mainland where there is no Australian equivalent good. This boost means inputs to production for Tasmanian manufacturing, mining and primary industries will be eligible for TFES assistance. This extends the benefits of TFES and will help Tasmanian companies to keep producing at this critical time when business continuity is paramount. This is another example of the Australian government acting to keep Australians in jobs and businesses in business as the economy recovers from the impacts of COVID-19. Businesses in Tasmania will be able to submit TFES claims from 1 October for imported goods shipped to Tasmania from the mainland on or after 1 July.
The budget invests in major road and rail projects, road safety and community infrastructure programs, supporting additional jobs. Three hundred and seventy-seven million dollars is being committed in Tasmania for projects to ease congestion, connect communities and improve road safety. They'll support the economic recovery in the short term and boost productivity in the longer term. The Morrison government's HomeBuilder program has received 3,062 applications in Tasmania and continues to support jobs in the construction sector and assist owner-occupiers with grants of $25,000 to build a new home or substantially renovate their existing home. The Morrison government is providing additional investments in respiratory clinics, pathology testing and tracing, and the continuation of telehealth services.
In Bass there have been more than 208,920 telehealth consultations through Medicare since the start of the pandemic, and these services are now being extended. We're increasing funding for early learning in the region and making child care more affordable and accessible. Childcare reforms in this budget will directly benefit over 770 families living in Bass.
The budget delivers a record investment in aged care to help the 19,760 senior Australians living in Bass. This investment will deliver more home-care places and more funding for residential aged care and will increase the amount of time residents are cared for while strengthening regulations to monitor and enforce the standards of care. I was pleased to have visited a Uniting Care aged-care residential home in northern Tasmania last week and meet some of the residents who will benefit from this investment, including Jim Ockerbie and Joy Bryan, who was thrilled to tell me that she had just received her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
This budget is working to secure the economic future of the northern Tasmanian community.
This is the eighth budget to be delivered by a tired eight-year government. At the next election the coalition will be asking for 12 years in office, which is more than Prime Minister Howard had. Yet they've handed down another budget with no vision for our country. This is not a budget from a government that's trying to build back better after the pandemic. This is not a budget from an ambitious government that is trying to leave our country better off after the privilege of being in office for eight years. It is a poor attempt by the government to buy a few votes and solve a few of their political problems. Whilst spending $100 billion and racking up $1 trillion of debt, this government has quite miraculously managed not to fulfil two of its most important jobs: establishing a safe quarantine system and vaccinating our population. In the midst of this current crisis, the Prime Minister's primary job is to keep Australians safe and get our country through to the other side of this pandemic, which is exactly why quarantine and vaccine rollout should be firmly at the top of the Prime Minister's to-do list.
Australians have done more than their fair share of heavy lifting during the COVID pandemic. They've obeyed restrictions, closed their businesses, stayed home and worked and lost pay, missed important life events, balanced working from home with looking after children, stayed separate from their loved ones, and, of course, much more. Australians have held up their end of the bargain. As a result, Australia has performed incredibly well, in terms of the health outcomes. But make no mistake: that is thanks to the hard work of the Australian people. But it's now time for this federal government to uphold their end of the deal, which is quarantine and vaccinations. No matter how much hard work and sacrifice is made by the Australian people, we will not emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 crisis without a successful quarantine system and vaccination program. Both are important tickets out of this pandemic. Yet this government has failed dismally on both fronts.
Since last year, when Jane Halton handed down her review, it has been clear what must be done to make our quarantine system fit for purpose. There are integral measures that, shockingly, this government still does not have in place, like strong standards around ventilation and PPE. But what I believe is its biggest failure is this government's refusal to build dedicated, fit-for-purpose, national quarantine facilities. Hotel quarantine in the heart of our CBDs has been important, but it was never meant to be permanent. It was a short-term option, not a long-term option. Hotels are built for tourism. They're not built to contain contagious, deadly viruses. We've seen of the consequences, with COVID managing to escape hotel quarantine time and time again. It is unacceptable—and, frankly, unforgivable—that in this budget the government has not included any new money for new quarantine facilities.
This budget also does nothing to fix the mess that the Prime Minister has made when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations. We are not even in the top 100 nations in the world, in terms of vaccine doses per head of population. Only two per cent of our population is fully vaccinated. In the United States, they've just passed 50 per cent. The rollout has been bungled from the get-go. The government was, true to form, focused on their announcements and the headlines. 'The eagle has landed,' the health minister said. Of course, they put the Liberal Party logo, not the Australian government logo, on the Facebook ads and made bold claims, such as the claim that four million Australians would be vaccinated at the end of March.
But it became clear very quickly that we were not at the front of the queue, that the four million target would not be reached and that, indeed, the eagle had not landed. As well as initial supply issues, the government, against many warnings, put their eggs in only two baskets: Pfizer and AstraZeneca—and there was very little in the Pfizer basket, may I add. This was despite the international recommendation to put your eggs in five or six baskets, which meant that the potential issues that emerged for the under-50s with the AstraZeneca vaccine resulted in further slowing. They like to make the excuse that it is the health advice that has slowed this down. Actually, if the government had done its job and had spread its risk, we would not be in this position. The UK didn't miss a beat when they changed their vaccination rollout. In one week they moved to: under 30s will not get AstraZeneca; under 30s will get Pfizer. They did it seamlessly. They did not miss a beat. But of course, once again, through this government's incompetence we have been flat-footed.
The administration of the rollout has been bungled too. I've heard countless reports from constituents who want the vaccine but haven't been able to find it. They've been told to call a number. The mobile number rings out. They can't book it online. There are GPs who are confused about how to obtain the vaccinations and, of course, how to work with the population. This has been nothing short of a debacle and a failure on every front.
We are now seeing the consequence play out in Melbourne. My heart goes out to all those in Victoria who have already sacrificed so much over the last 15 months, who have kept our whole country safe, and are now facing yet another outbreak. But let's be absolutely clear, if we had seen the vaccine rollout and quarantine as essential issues to be dealt with, not as the Prime Minister said, 'We'll just go slow—slow and steady with the vaccine rollout'—these are the sorts of things that happen when you don't do your job. I really am incredibly frustrated about this government's ducking and weaving when it comes to blaming others for this. It is always someone else's problem. Indeed, the health minister was interjecting yesterday: 'The Northern Territory wants to take over quarantine'. Why should we run quarantine? They probably don't have a lot of confidence in the Commonwealth based on this vaccine rollout.
It's not only the lockdowns, the ongoing restrictions also have consequences for businesses. I am constantly speaking to businesses in my electorate who will not be able to fully recover until all COVID restrictions are lifted. It's heartbreaking to speak to small business owners who, through absolutely no fault of their own, are still suffering the severe economic downturn because of COVID restrictions. Examples I've given a number of times in this place are party and event based businesses. This is an industry that simply cannot properly recover until restrictions on density are fully lifted and Australians can confidently recommence hosting large parties and events.
Another example is the tourism industry. I recently held a tourism forum in my electorate and heard firsthand the impact that restrictions are having on industry. I also heard from Murray, who operates a the Fleurieu Pantry in Port Noarlunga, about the impact that ongoing density restrictions are having on his business, but in particular on the numbers of staff that he can employ. He said he directly employs fewer people because of the density requirements. Bob and Julie own a tourism business at Port Noarlunga and they told me that they are still giving their tenant a concessional rental rate because they cannot fully operate at full capacity. These restrictions are having an impact on the bottom line of many businesses. It has been mooted in South Australia that until we get to 80 per cent vaccination rates then density requirements will not change. So these businesses will have to wait while the Prime Minister is on his go-slow. The AHA's head Ian Horne said publicans were told last year that QR codes would be the silver bullet. But full capacity is now not being considered and will be considered on vaccination levels. This is really significant for many businesses.
This budget also manages to continue to leave behind many working Australians. This government has presided over record low wage growth. Instead of putting forward a plan in this budget to overcome the worst wages growth in history, the government has delivered real wage cuts. We've had wage stagnation. This budget plainly predicts a cut in real wages over the next four years. But not only does this budget predict wages cuts, we are seeing the essentials go up. We even hear this from the government, the reason why inflation is going to be so high in the predictions is the cost of child care. We know child care is expensive. We've been telling the government that the system that they introduced in 2018 has failed dismally. We've been telling them over and over again. Despite that, we have heard the government dismiss that. We all know that, to fix a political problem, they did throw some money at childcare in this budget. But it does fall way short of what is needed and what Labor's plan is to combat the rising cost of child care. It also falls well short of what our economy needs to boost workforce participation, which, I might say, in this budget is predicted to go down. So that is one holy failure of their childcare policy and their spending. The levels of workforce participation are going to go down because fewer people are even bothering to look for a job.
The government spent the last few years denying that there was anything wrong with the childcare system that the Prime Minister himself designed. They dismissed Labor's bold plan for cheaper child care—a structural change that would boost workforce participation. But Australian families—and this is the truth—are being hit with some of the highest out-of-pocket childcare costs in the world. We know that there are close to 100,000 families who are locked out of the system because of child care.
The government spent a lot of time making sure they got their announcement right. They wanted to make as many families as possible think that they were going to be better off under their announcement. But, as usual with this government, you always have to read the fine print. This policy, firstly, does nothing for families that have one child in child care. There's nothing—zero fee relief. It is predicted 75 per cent of all families using the system will get nothing and no acknowledgement around the subsidy. The reality is that 86 per cent of families—that's 860,000 families—with children under six, including one or two children, are better off under Labor's policy compared to the Morrison government's plan. Every single family with one child under the age of five with a combined family income of less than $530,000 will receive absolutely no lift in their childcare subsidy under the Liberals but will under Labor's plan. The vast majority of families with a combined family income between $69,000 and $174,000 with two children in child care will be better off under Labor's plan. Any extra support the Liberals do provide to families with two children will be temporary, as it will be ripped away as soon as the oldest child goes to school because it does not apply to after-school-hours care, whereas Labor's policy also improves the level of subsidy for after-school-hours care. Parents struggle with the cost of both child care and after-school-hours care, but the government has ignored that, because this was a quick fix.
In contrast, Labor's boost will support every child for the entire time that they are in child care. Under our plan, one million families would be better off than they are now—four times as many as under the Liberals' plan. Ninety-seven per cent of families will be better off or equal under Labor's plan. That's because our plan helps more families for longer. It will also have a larger economic dividend—a boost to GDP three times bigger than the Liberal Party's plan. Our plan will provide more for families for longer, will result in a boost to GDP—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11:24 to 11:36
So the truth of the matter is that, when you compare the two childcare policies, we've got one from the Liberal Party that is a political fix, a con job, and one that delivers long-term, sustainable economic growth to help Australian working families. The Liberal Party stopped talking about child care the day after the budget. They don't want to talk about it, because they know more Australian families would be better off under Labor's plan. They know that Labor's plan would deliver more economic growth. They know that Labor's plan is structural reform, not a political fix job. We are committed to talking about this to the Australian people each and every day, because Labor is offering a better long-term solution than the Liberal political fix.
The main responsibility of the Commonwealth government at the moment is to get as many Australians as possible vaccinated for COVID-19 as quickly as possible, and unfortunately the government is bungling this responsibility. We've seen that Australia's rates of vaccination, compared to other nations, are woefully inadequate. I've had several representations from GPs in my community telling me that they simply cannot get enough vaccines to meet the demand in the local community. The government have been talking about the additional supply that they've secured, and that's well and good, and it's a great thing for the country. But where they're falling down is on the delivery. They're not able to distribute that supply to GPs and vaccination centres throughout the country. As a consequence, I'm receiving letters such as the one that I got a couple of weeks ago from a group of GPs in my community, which said, 'There are 16 GPs in this clinic and they get 100 vaccines a week.'
It's simply not enough, and as a result there are elderly Australians who cannot get vaccinated at the moment because there simply isn't enough supply to vaccinate those who want it. That's a great shame, because it restricts the lives of people, particularly those who are elderly and are worried about their health and their frailty and, of course, Australians who have other health issues. That's resulted in their reluctance to leave their homes to socially engage. It brings a host of social problems, particularly mental health problems, when you don't have regular communication with people.
So the government really does need to get its act together on vaccinations, and the key to ensuring that we open up our economy in the long term is making sure we do the vaccination process right, and at the moment they're not getting that right. They really need to get their act together, and they should listen to what Labor has been suggesting about establishing mass quarantine centres that are purpose-built, have open-air facilities and are close to medical and transport links, similar to the one that's been operating very successfully in Howard Springs. There needs to be a public awareness campaign. There needs to be a public education campaign to inform the Australian public about the importance of getting vaccinated as quickly as possible and to remove the hesitancy that's been developing in the Australian population, with people saying, 'I'm happy to wait.' You shouldn't be happy to wait. As soon as your eligibility comes up, you should be putting your name down to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. So there are two areas in which, Labor believe, the government could improve, and we'd be happy to work with them, quickly, to improve things.
There's also a problem with Australians stranded overseas. The No. 1 responsibility of an Australian government is to keep Australians safe and provide them with safe passage home when they have an Australian passport and they want to come home. But many can't get home. It's another failed promise of the Prime Minister, who committed to having all Australians who were overseas returned home by last Christmas. He failed dismally in that commitment that he made to the Australian people. There are 36,000 Australians still stranded overseas. I've had some harrowing phone calls from the parents of people stranded overseas—indeed, some of those Aussies who are still overseas—unable to buy airline tickets unless they purchase a business class ticket. They simply can't afford it, so they get wiped and then don't have the opportunity to come home. People have done this eight or nine times. They book themselves on a flight, and then the flight gets cancelled because of the problems that the government has created domestically in not being able to take enough people into quarantine as they come into Australia.
The budget delivers Australia its largest ever deficit, $150 billion, and $1 trillion worth of debt. We in the Labor Party understand the importance of spending to ensure that we protect jobs and that our economy recovers from the recession that it went through last year. But it's what you spend that money on that's important. It's a question of spending that money in fixing some of the structural issues we have in our economy and ensuring that we get growth that brings about equality, better educational standards, better health care, better support for people with disabilities, and better business investment to grow small businesses and protect jobs. Unfortunately, in all of those areas, the government's budget fails to deliver. You only need to look at the government's budget papers to see that. The government admit that, over the forward estimates, real incomes for the Australian public aren't going to grow. People are doing it tough with the cost of living at the moment. Childcare fees are always going up. Private health insurance is always going up. Transport costs, associated with tolls and driving to and from work around cities, are going up. The costs of electricity and other utilities are always going up. The one thing that's not going up is people's wages, and the budget papers show that they're going to be flat over the forward estimates. So the government are spending all that money but they're not getting a dividend for the Australian public in terms of wages growth.
Housing affordability is a huge issue in Australia at the moment. Not a week goes by without someone in the community I represent coming up to me and saying, 'How are our kids going to be able to afford to buy a home in the future?' The prospect is that they're not going to be able to, and that's because housing is becoming less and less affordable and Australia has one of the highest rates of household debt in the OECD. I think Australia is in the top three, with a housing-debt-to-income ratio of 200 per cent. And it's only getting worse. House prices have increased by eight per cent over the course of the past 12 months, and there's no end in sight to that growth. What's the government's solution? It introduces all these first home buyer programs. They look good on the surface, but all they're really doing is pouring fuel on the fire. If you talk to a real estate agent in the wake of those programs being introduced, they'll always tell you that in the 12 months after a program like that is introduced prices will go up. It's because demand will once again increase but the housing stock isn't increasing. Again, this government is doing nothing to support housing affordability.
We're facing massive skills shortages in this country at the moment. Talk to any employer in any main street in any region throughout the country and they'll tell you, 'I simply cannot get staff at the moment.' Why? Because there have been 140,000 fewer apprenticeships since this government came to office. There's been $2 billion cut from the TAFE budget, so people from working families have less opportunity to get a trade. They simply can't afford it. State governments have pushed up the cost of TAFE because the Commonwealth has reduced the amount of funding that it provides for technical and further training. The problem develops in skills shortages. We're not training enough young Australians in the trades that we need and with the skills that we need in the future, and this budget does nothing to help with that. The program that it's putting in place is too little, too late. Its solution in the past has been, 'It's okay, we'll just import foreign labour, we'll import foreign workers, and they'll cover the gap.' Now the borders are closed, it can't do that. The result is skills shortages, and employers, particularly small businesses, are paying that cost.
When the interim report into the royal commission into aged care is entitled Neglect, you get a good insight into this government's approach to aged care in this country. They've neglected aged care for many years, and it has resulted in people being put in very, very difficult situations. Nurses being taken out of nursing homes. People are unable to afford to get into aged care. People are on waiting lists for irresponsibly long periods of time, and, unfortunately, they're dying while on waiting lists for an aged-care package. It's unacceptable the way we treat our elderly Australians trying to get into the aged-care system, and, once again, this budget does nothing to help fix that.
On the issue of aged care, I was delighted to help launch the Intergenerational Integration Initiative at St Nicholas Christian preschool in Coogee last month. The project is better known as Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds, which was very popular on the ABC. I was very proud that the last series was actually filmed in the electorate that I represent. This local project aims to obtain detailed evidence to prove that regular contact between our older citizens and preschool children provides an effective and low-cost way to counter dementia and to help delay the onset of frailty. The structured program is running as we speak—it's every Tuesday for 10 weeks—and it's scheduled to end next month. The focus is on bringing a group of older adults, who are living alone in our community, together with four-year olds in an intergenerational playschool for learning, connection and friendship.
The success of the popular ABC television program Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds has shown that time spent with older adults has been linked to enhanced social and personal skills for children. And the award-winning show is reality TV at its best. I often know when my wife is watching Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds because I hear the sobbing coming from the lounge room, quickly followed by the laughter and the joy. It's one of those programs that is so uplifting. If you haven't watched it, do yourself a favour and have a look at it. The first season followed a social experiment in which 11 preschoolers were introduced to aged-care residents at their facility. The program won an international Emmy award celebrating the best programs from around the world. It resonated with audiences here and overseas for giving a voice to the elderly while closing the divide between the generations with plenty of humour and joy.
In the second season, which was filmed in Coogee, in my electorate, older adults living in the community volunteered to spend time with children at a specially designed preschool, and this was at St Nicholas. But while it's excellent television, the reality is there are no empirical trials that have been conducted with preschool children and community-dwelling older adults to quantify the benefits for participants, and that's where this study comes in. There has been a study done in the United States connecting older adults and primary school children that reported benefits to child reading, and benefits to adult mood, function and, potentially, thinking skills. But that's it in terms of research and quantifiable evidence, and that's where the Intergenerational Integration Initiative, or 3i, in my electorate that I represent is making significant progress. While Australia and the world are watching, I'm proud that this pioneering research is being done in our community. I applaud the outstanding initiative of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, alongside St Nicholas' Anglican Church and Anglicare, in helping alleviate frailty amongst older Australians and delaying their transition into aged care.
We know around 40 per cent of Australians aged between 75 and 84 live alone, while more than half of those aged 85 and over are by themselves. Around 500 Australians a day become frail. Though some consider it inevitable with age, frailty is actually reversible, or at least modifiable. We know that frailty is a strong predictor for aged-care transition. Frailty brings poor health outcomes and is linked to a loss of independence and transfer to aged care. It has an estimated economic impact per frail person of $12,460 per annum. If this program helps alleviate frailty and delays the transition into aged care, it has the potential for significant financial savings as well as clear social and personal benefits. The cost of financing it in the community is likely to be relatively low in comparison to the benefit that it may bring. The research team will spend two months analysing the data and will reveal their results in August. The results of this pilot trial, testing the feasibility of the program, will drive the next steps towards expansion of the program in several sites across Australia. It's much-needed research and it aims to do good for older citizens as well as benefiting the next generation of young Australians and their families.
I'd once again like to congratulate all of those involved in this wonderful partnership between UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, St Nicholas Anglican Church in Coogee and Anglicare, with the aim of helping alleviate frailty in senior Australians and delaying their transition into aged care. I wholeheartedly congratulate the participants, and we look forward to the outcomes of their study.
I rise to speak on the appropriation bills. I want to take you back, Deputy Speaker, to before the last election, when the Morrison federal government rolled the cameras into Macnamara and said, 'Come on, everyone, we've got something to say. We're going to make a very exciting announcement in Macnamara.' They turned up to Balaclava train station, a great local train station in my electorate—
Not 'baklava' but 'Balaclava'. I do enjoy a baklava. They said, 'We're going to spend $15 million building a commuter car park in Macnamara.' I thought, 'You know what, that's not a bad announcement, but I'd like to see some of the details, because something's a bit fishy here with the $15 million commuter car park announcement in Balaclava.' Like with many things with this government, you've got to look at the details. The announcements are great. People say mean things about this government, but boy can they write a press release. They can write a pretty mean press release. They will finesse that to the nth degree. But there is one thing they didn't do when announcing the $15 million Macnamara Balaclava car park. They forgot to talk to the local government, the City of Port Phillip, and they forgot to talk to the state government, because they announced commuter car parks on land that had already been designated for social housing. There was already a deal signed between the state government and the local government in Macnamara, in the City of Port Phillip, for social housing.
This is a classic way in which the Morrison government operates. They bring the cavalry in; they bring the cameras in and say: 'Come on everyone, look at me. We've got a fancy announcement. We're going to build car parks.' But then they say, 'We're not going to talk to any of the stakeholders. We're going to live in this Liberal Party slush fund bubble that doesn't actually engage with the real world.' Then, when it comes to actually being able to deliver, of course we went two years, and guess how many car parks were built, Deputy Speaker. Were there 10? No, there weren't 10. Were there five? No, not five.
Not even for a shopping trolley, not even for a skateboard, not even for a pair of rollerblades! You can't leave anything there, because they haven't built a thing. There was a $15 million announcement but zero delivery in Macnamara, which just sums up the chaotic and ridiculous way in which this government operates. They think everything is all about the Liberal Party branding and the Liberal Party announcement, but there is nothing about the actual delivery.
The commuter car parks are a big deal. They are a big deal for my electorate. We absolutely want to see more people on public transport, and I know that the pandemic has meant that people have been a bit more reluctant to get on public transport. Obviously, in Melbourne right now we are facing another seven-day lockdown. We do want to see more people on public transport eventually, and enabling people to park at the station is a good idea. But the problem is that you need a federal government that is actually willing to deliver on the announcements that it delivers. It wasn't the Labor Party who delivered it; it was the federal government who delivered it.
The other big thing that I want to mention in the debate on this appropriations bill where they were very keen on the announcement but the delivery has been dangerously bad is the vaccine rollout. I remember when the health minister, pretty chuffed with himself, confidently strolled into the House of Representatives and said: 'Good news, everyone. The eagle has landed.' One eagle had landed. The problem is that not enough eagles for the rest of the country had landed. One single eagle—an eagle, singular—had landed in the country, but it was not enough. Even though he hadn't organised enough eagles, or vaccines, for the whole country, it didn't stop him putting the Liberal Party branding on the vaccine announcement. We all remember that social media tile: 'The Liberal Party secures 20 million Pfizer vaccines.' Well, we're still waiting for those vaccines.
Here is the thing that really is frustrating about the federal government. When the vaccines started to arrive, the government made all of their announcements, as they do. They wrote their press releases, put their Liberal Party branding on the Pfizer announcement and ran plenty of ads about themselves. They set their original targets: 'We're going to deliver four million vaccines by the end of March. We're going to get everyone vaccinated by the end of October. Aged care is going to be done. Disability care is going to be done.' This was the rollout. What that meant was that we were going to be averaging around 120,000 vaccines a day. As time rolled on and it became increasingly apparent that the way in which the health minister, the federal government and the Prime Minister had arranged this vaccine rollout meant there was no way they were going to be able to hit that in the early days—we're now almost in June, and we're still not hitting that mark—they did not say: 'Alright, how are we going to fix this? How are we as the federal government going to make this better? We made the plans. We made the announcement. We've got to deliver it. We have to. It's too important not to deliver it, so we're going to have to fix it.'
Imagine that. Imagine if we had a federal government that was actually interested in delivering the stuff that it announced. Imagine if the federal government were actually interested in delivering the vaccines that they'd announced. Imagine the health minister saying, 'Look, team, we're not hitting 120,000 or 180,000 vaccines a day, but we've got to, so here's what we're going to do: we're going to put these resources here, open up mass vaccination hubs and do extra deals with some of the vaccine companies.' But no. All they have done is stubbornly say: 'We're on track. It's all on track.' Then they were saying: 'Hang on. These targets are just too hard. We're not interested. I don't care that we're the federal government. It's not a race.' That's what this Prime Minister said about our vaccine rollout: 'It's not a race. It's not a competition.' Well, say to the person who's in ICU right now in Victoria that it's not a race or a competition. We genuinely hope that that person gets better, and we hope that no-one gets sick for the rest of this pandemic, but people are getting sick right now, and the federal government, instead of fixing the vaccine rollout and making sure that the residents and staff of our aged-care homes and our disability-care homes are vaccinated, just threw their hands in the air and said, 'It's all too hard.' There are over 30 aged care facilities in Victoria right now that have not had a single vaccination—not one.
We remember the devastation in the federally regulated aged-care facilities at the second wave in Victoria. It was devastating. And, instead of the federal government saying, 'You know what? This is an absolute race. We are going to act as fast as we possibly can, with the urgency as if every single life depends on getting this vaccine rolled out,' what did they say? 'It's not a race, and we don't have targets anymore.' They literally treated their vaccine rollout in the same way as they treated the Macnamara Balaklava commuter car parks announcement. They made the announcement. They brought the cameras. They put the Liberal Party branding on the vaccine announcement, but they didn't actually deliver. It's dangerous at the moment because this country is vulnerable.
There are other countries around the world—for example, the United States, which has had a devastating pandemic. Thankfully, there has been a huge turning point since November last year where they have started to really ramp up the way in which they deal with this pandemic through masks, through isolation, through distancing, through better contact tracing and absolutely through one of the most aggressive scaled vaccine rollouts across the world. Americans are coming out of this. Americans are seeing the back of this pandemic and they're doing it with strength and confidence. And we in this country are vulnerable to another massive lockdown.
To make matters worse, the thing that started this whole thing is that a man who travelled to India—he didn't catch this Indian variant in India, and we send our absolute best wishes to our friends in India, because they have had a devastating past few months. But this Australian didn't catch this variant in India. He caught it in a South Australian hotel quarantine facility. It is galling that the federal government pats themselves on the back. There are plenty of announcements: 'Look at me! Look at me! We're the federal government!' And then they do nothing to fix quarantine, despite their own experts saying that this is an airborne disease, that this has a risk of being transmitted via aerosol, so make sure that you're not in a hotel, where that can spread from room to room. Make sure that they're in their own enclosed quarantine arrangements like in Howard Springs.
They've done it before. They did it in Howard Springs. They know what works. That's the one facility that's had a 100 per cent success rate. But they are too stubborn. And so they spend a fortune. This budget they've spent a fortune. It is the biggest debt and deficit this country has seen in the history of our country. There has never been more spent. This is the most. And yet what have they got to show for it? They are leaving Australians vulnerable to this pandemic, refusing to take responsibility and refusing to deliver on the announcements that they had.
So they don't fix quarantine. They're not delivering the vaccines. Victorians are going into a lockdown. I have to say that last year one of the most important health measure that we had in this country was JobKeeper. It meant that people could make the choice to do the right thing. It meant that businesses could shut. They didn't make money, obviously—some did, but most of them didn't make money. They were just surviving on the JobKeeper supplement. But it meant that they were able to do the right thing, listen to the health advice and close their doors knowing that they've got a chance to get there on the other side. There are no protections at the moment. There's no JobKeeper that the federal government is willing to support Victorians on. There's no increased coronavirus supplement where, if this lockdown does cause your business to close, the federal government will be there to support you.
All of the good things that this federal government did over the pandemic have now been pulled away. They haven't said that they would support Victorians or people in any other state that potentially could face a lockdown. And so we are literally back at square one, where Australians are being left vulnerable by this federal government. Our economy is being left vulnerable by this federal government. The most important thing that we can do to secure our economy and to secure the economic recovery is to make sure that businesses have time and certainty to run their business. Australian businesses need time to get back on their feet, to get people through the doors, to get the customers back in, and to make sure that the books start returning to the prepandemic levels. That is the most important thing–a bit of certainty.
But, if you want to know the story of this budget, if you want to know the story of this government, it's not to protect Australians. It's not to follow and deliver the announcements that they have already made. It's to leave Australians vulnerable. It's to not protect Australians. It's to not be there and support them through this pandemic. This federal government is simply there for themselves. They're there for the cameras, and they're there for the photo-ops. They're there to hammer in the imaginary nails, but they're not there to support Australian businesses and the Australian economy. And the sad thing is that Australians have been magnificent throughout this pandemic. Australians have done the right thing. Victorians did the right thing in some of the most stressful and difficult times in our state. Victorians were sensational, and we thank them, and we're going to ask a lot of them over the next little while. But, right now, they have a federal government that is not there to support them and a budget that didn't deliver on vaccines and quarantine as it should have. They have failed the test. The economic security isn't there under this government, and Australians deserve better.
I rise today to speak in relation to the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and related bills and to provide my commentary in relation to the 2021-22 budget. We find ourselves in a situation where we have overcome some aspects of the worst of this terrible pandemic. We were in a situation last year where the pandemic was rife in parts of the country and where the economy was devastated in a way that it hadn't been since the Great Depression. Indeed, on some metrics, the economy was affected in ways even more severe than during the Great Depression.
What everybody agreed with last year is that we needed a bridge between that deep trough through to a post-pandemic world and that we needed to help individuals and businesses get through that period. So we, in a very constructive way, suggested JobKeeper, we suggested the JobSeeker supplement, and we implored financial institutions to provide individuals and small businesses with flexibility. And what we saw was that JobKeeper—which, as I mentioned, we suggested—and the JobSeeker supplement did help individuals get through the worst of that period. What we needed in this budget was for the recovery that followed that to be protected and preserved. The two KPIs that we needed the federal government to achieve out of this budget—this budget that was supposed to protect the recovery—were that we protect our borders and reduce the risks to our health and to our economy by accelerating the vaccine rollout. All of our public health experts and all of our economists say that we can, for a period of time, shut our borders and we can, for a period of time, provide a bridge, if you will, but we have to have a plan to get to a post-COVID world. The post-COVID world is one where we are vaccinated. The post-COVID world is one where we have effective border controls—not one where we have closed borders. What this government has failed to do in this budget is to provide any kind of vision or effective program for providing us as a nation, as a society and as an economy with a way in which we can move to a post-COVID world.
I want to talk about quarantine. Quarantine is one of the key responsibilities of the federal government in relation to protecting our people and protecting our economy. Let's go back to the Halton review. Recommendation 4 said that the federal government should consider options for new models of quarantine, with consideration by national cabinet. The Prime Minister has talked at great length about how effective national cabinet is, but, as the entity within national cabinet responsible for our international borders, where have the ideas been from the federal government for new models of quarantine? Recommendation 6 was that the Australian government should consider the establishment a national facility. What we see in this budget, where hundreds of billions of dollars are sprayed across every area of government activity, where a trillion dollars in debt is built up, is $500 million dedicated to an already announced expansion of Howard Springs. But, of course, what we don't see is anything actually delivered. There is an abject failure in this budget when it comes to quarantine. This is a government which spends tens and hundreds of billions of dollars on everything you can imagine, but on one of the absolute core KPIs of a federal government, it really gives us no confidence they've advanced at all. No increase in funding. No shovels in the ground. It's an abject failure. What we see today in Victoria are the risks that can arise as a result of that.
What about vaccination, the other of these two core KPIs of the national government? We rank somewhere around 110th in the world in vaccination rates. It is absolutely appalling that we rank at that level given the state of our public health system. We should be near the top. We have the funds and we have the experts, but it's now becoming clear that we didn't get timely deals with enough producers of vaccines, we didn't lay the groundwork and we didn't manage our risks. So what's happened is that perceived weaknesses in a particular vaccine have now created a huge blockage in our system and have also affected people's confidence in the rollout. This is a problem that is entirely generated by the government's lack of planning and lack of foresight in relation to risks that should have been entirely on the radar.
The vaccination rollout has been an unfortunate shambles. Experts are telling us that if we are to make the schedule that is an underlying assumption of this budget, which is that we essentially have the whole population vaccinated by the end of this year, we'll need to have 200,000 people being vaccinated a day. That's from Provocate. Yet yesterday in question time we had the health minister patting himself on the back because for one day we slightly edged over 100,000. On one day we were slightly over half the rate we need to be if we're to meet the budget's underlying assumptions. How much faith can we have in the assumptions underpinning this document?
We can look at this from a health perspective, obviously, at the massive health risks that a slow vaccination rollout poses to our people, our vulnerable people. I know, from talking to so many people in my community, how many elderly people in Fraser have been affected over the past year. But the economic impact is absolutely clear. Let's look at Richard Holden, one of our most prominent macroeconomists, who says that the economic cost of a slow vaccine rollout is in the order of tens of billions of dollars a year. Make no mistake: this recovery is being imperilled by the slowness of the vaccine rollout. Indeed, we only need to go to the government's own figures. Last year's budget—the 2020-21 budget—itself said that an early vaccine rollout from 1 July 2021 is worth $34 billion to the June quarter 2022. We've put this to the government on a number of times in question time: if their own budget papers last year said that an early rollout of the vaccine would produce such massive economic benefits, what are the economic costs of a slow vaccine rollout? We get no answers to that question, unsurprisingly. But it is absolutely clear from all of the economic commentators that the economic costs are massive.
There's also, of course, the fact that we are now going to be in an unnecessarily prolonged situation where our international borders are shut. This is leading to incredible stress and heartache for so many families separated from loved ones overseas. This is leading to incredible stress for so many thousands of Australians overseas right around the world who, of course, can't come home because of the lack of a quarantine system. But it also, again, has massive long-term consequences for our economy. Our international higher education system is being damaged by long-term disconnection between our system and international student markets.
Let's look at comments by Olivier Blanchard, who used to be the chief economist at the IMF. He said that border closures stop important interconnections between economies that are often difficult to measure but are extremely important. He talked about the fact that we can zoom between economies, but tacit knowledge is critically important to business connections, particularly when setting up new business connections. They need to be established face to face. As Blanchard says:
Can one put a number on these costs? … Not easily. Restrictions lasting a year or two might not have much effect. Longer-lasting impediments could, however, have a substantial effect on global value chains, trade, and overall efficiency.
The point is that this budget is coming after a period of recovery in our labour markets and our economy, but what this budget absolutely fails to do is bed down that recovery and protect that recovery from risk in two key areas of federal government responsibility. The Australian government is responsible for the borders and quarantine, and the Australian government is responsible for the key elements of our vaccine rollout that has slowed down so disastrously.
I want to talk about some of the government's spending. The government has spent a huge amount of money. We welcome additional spending in the many areas that have received additional funds. We welcome additional money in aged care, for example. What I would say, though, is that what we don't accept is that the spending that is occurring is dealing with the damning findings of the royal commission in a way that is going to address the needs of the residents of these facilities, most importantly, and also the workforce of these facilities. I alluded earlier to so many people in my electorate having experienced so much hardship under COVID. Of course, so much of that in Fraser and so much of it around our country was in aged-care facilities. It was failures in federal regulatory arrangements that were so critical to those aged-care facilities being overwhelmed.
What do we see from the government's additional spending? What we don't see is real reform. What we do see is an announcement. We see large numbers on a piece of paper. We see large numbers in documents, underpinned by assumptions that, as I alluded to earlier, one can only question. But we don't see significant reforms in governance, we don't see significant reforms in service delivery models and, very critically, we don't see significant workplace reforms. We don't see reforms in how much these critically important workers are going to be paid, trained or supported. We don't see changes that are going to help them have more secure working arrangements, which was so critical to the stress that those aged-care facilities were placed under early last year.
The Productivity Commission has advised that we will need 700,000 additional aged-care workers by 2050. This is actually an opportunity for us to imagine an economy of the future where there are hundreds of thousands of additional jobs—high-quality jobs, well-paid jobs, secure jobs. Of course, by providing the opportunities for so many jobs, we're going to be providing important high-quality services for people who need them in the aged-care sector. We don't see any kind of vision in this budget. We see some additional home-care packages, and we welcome additional home-care packages. But, again, I go to the royal commission, which said that we basically need to keep the waiting list clear in that area. What we have from this government is an ad hoc, piecemeal approach where each year we see an amount added to the amount the government's providing, but we don't see a holistic, systemic response that deals with this issue once and for all.
Finally, I want to talk about another systemic, major failure of this budget, which is that it spends so much and builds up so much debt, with deficits as far as the eye can see, deficits of $30 billion or $40 billion a year out to 2031. So it's a debt which is continuing to grow. But what do we get for it? What do families get for it? What we had before COVID was the worst real wages growth on record. What we had before COVID was real disposable household income declining. That's a remarkable set of circumstances in a country where, for so long, each generation has expected, and rightly, that their circumstances would be better than the generation before. Under this government, that is thrown on its head. But, after that period of failure by the government, they spent $1 trillion, and what do we get in the budget papers? We get more years of zero and negative real wages growth. What that reflects is not just years of hardship for households and workers but an absolute failure of vision, a failure of reform.
This budget was about bedding down an economic recovery which is attributable to the hard work, dedication and ingenuity of the Australian people. But this government, through this budget, puts it at risk because it fails on quarantine and it fails on vaccines. Because it doesn't embrace reform, because it spends money without reform, the Australian public is also going to be subject to years more under this government of falling real wages, falling disposable income and falling living standards.
The Morrison government's budget was a chance to lay out a long-term strategy to rebuild our economy and our country for the better. Unfortunately, despite racking up $1 trillion of debt, this budget was more of the same—a short-term political fix full of missed opportunities. When you unpick the headlines, what you realise is that this budget doesn't fix the issues that are affecting all of us. It doesn't fix wages. In fact, it predicts a cut in real wages. It doesn't address the climate crisis. There was no new investment in renewable energy. It doesn't take seriously the very real and very genuine concerns of Australian women. In fact, in the last eight years, this government has spent nearly as much on government advertising as it has on addressing violence against women. It is a series of announcements without substance. It's the kind that make you wonder, 'What is the point of this government, when it doesn't follow through, when it doesn't improve people's lives and when it doesn't take responsibility?' When government members come to this place and they spend question time giving each other pats on the back and telling themselves how well they've done and how they wouldn't be anywhere else, what out-of-touch hubris that is.
We are feeling the extreme consequences of that lack of responsibility and of the focus on headlines over delivery in Melbourne right now. Right now in Melbourne parents are scrambling to once again prepare themselves for trying to juggle home schooling and working from home. Local businesses in my community are being pushed to the edge. They are wondering if they can survive another lockdown. And all of us are facing the mental strain of not knowing what's coming next. Why are we going into lockdown? Because this government failed on its responsibilities—quarantine and vaccines. The outbreak in Melbourne at the moment started with a case that was transmitted from hotel quarantine in Adelaide. And, yet, despite it being clear for more than a year now that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose, despite quarantine being a federal responsibility, there are zero dollars in this budget for new quarantine facilities.
The Head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Nancy Baxter, was talking about this on the ABC this morning. She said: 'I can't think of a rationale for not trying to improve quarantine. You know, if it's the money, how much money is it going to cost to shut down Melbourne for a week? This can't be about the money.' Well, it's clearly not about the money. It is about a complete failure of this government to do its job. And yet, once again, this government is congratulating itself on a job well done.
Then we come to the vaccine rollout or the lack of a vaccine rollout. I've been very concerned in the past few days at the rise in cases in Melbourne. Due to that concern, yesterday my office contacted all the aged-care facilities in my electorate. I was devastated to learn that there is an aged-care facility in my electorate that has still not had its first vaccine. In fact, it was not scheduled to have its first round of vaccines until July. What a disgrace. These are vulnerable older Australians who are being left unprotected by this government. Not only that, in at least four of the facilities in my electorate staff have not been vaccinated and there is no plan to get them vaccinated. In fact, they've been told that they should just arrange to do that themselves. Again, what an abject failure of responsibility. If we think about how the outbreak started last time, how Melbourne got into the position where we were left with a very long, very difficult lockdown, it started with workers moving between aged-care homes. And yet we haven't vaccinated those people. Despite this being a federal government responsibility, the federal government has not put any attention to this. This morning Minister Colbeck told reporters that apparently he's, 'very comfortable with the rollout'. Well, I hope Minister Colbeck is comfortable with telling that to families in my electorate.
Some of the most difficult conversations I have had in my time as a member were with families of people in aged care last year during Melbourne's lockdown. Those were families whose older residents in those aged-care facilities had died. They were devastated. Of course they were devastated. Those were families who couldn't see their older relatives for a long period of time and spent that time worrying about them, not being able to go and check on what was happening to them in the aged-care facility. Of course they were scared. That was a terrible time. Why are we still here all this time later? Why are families going to have to go through this again, because of the failure of this government to do its job and to pick up its responsibility? It is an absolute disgrace and I think that they should be ashamed of themselves.
It's not just on vaccines that this government has failed aged care. I've been having discussions across my community in the past few months about how people realise that there is a systemic failure in aged care in our country. We saw so much of that highlighted through the royal commission into aged care. In this budget the government tipped more money into aged care so you'd think that might fix it. Unfortunately, once again, it's all money that's not doing the job it should. It's this government looking for a headline, looking for the political fix, and not following through.
Let's look at what the Morrison government didn't invest in aged care in this budget. They didn't tie increased funding to providing better food and care for residents so that it's not just swallowed up by private providers. They didn't accept the royal commission's recommendation to require a nurse to be on duty at all times in residential aged-care homes. They didn't improve wages and conditions for aged-care workers who are at the frontline of our system. Again, when I'm talking to people in my community who have experience in aged care or who know that they're getting to close to having experience with aged care what they tell me most, and what they are concerned about most, is the level of care their elderly resident or they might get in that aged-care facility. They know that the level of care that is provided at the moment isn't as it should be. They know that staff are underpaid and underworked. Of course, those staff themselves know that they are underpaid and underworked. Who would be an aged-care worker, working for a wage less than what you can get in McDonald's or in Woolworths, doing very, very difficult, very emotionally draining work caring for our older Australians? These people were ignored in Scott Morrison's budget. These people will not get a wage increase from the Prime Minister's budget. These people are being left behind.
We know that most of these workers are women. This was meant to be the budget for women. It was meant to be the budget when the Morrison government realised that a little bit over half of the population of Australia is female so we might want to do some things for them. Well, let's look at where women are in Australia at the moment. Let's look at what's happened to Australian women during the COVID recession and the situation that I think many women in my community will once again be in as we head into another lockdown. At the peak of the recession, more women than men lost jobs. At the peak of the recession, women spent three hours longer each day on household chores and caring responsibilities than men did. Two out of three women who experienced domestic violence during the pandemic said it started or got worse during the pandemic. And now we know that women are returning to work but returning to jobs where they have less security and fewer hours than men. Yet this was meant to be the budget for women. This was meant to be where the Morrison government got it.
Let's look at what we've found out in the past week about how they 'get' women, shall we? In the last week we've found out that there was a sham investigation into whether the Prime Minister's office was backgrounding against Brittany Higgins—a sham investigation conducted by the Prime Minister's own chief of staff. What disrespect to the bravery of Ms Higgins! Is that going to lead to any sort of change in behaviour in this Prime Minister's office? Of course not. We found out in the past week that, two years after the alleged rape that Ms Higgins has so bravely talked about—an alleged rape in this place of work—there have been no changes to security processes or procedures in this place, yet this government wants us to think that it takes women's safety and security seriously.
Of course, the member for Bowman, Andrew Laming, is still Chair of the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training in this place. He's drawing an extra $20,000 on his salary despite his completely inappropriate behaviour towards women in his electorate. How are Australian women meant to take this government seriously? You can't just put the word 'women' in a title and think, 'That's alright; that'll be fine.' You have to follow through. You have to have standards. You have to set behaviour standards, and you have to set them in this place, because the women in this place should be safe, just as the women around Australia should be safe. They need the Morrison government to take their concerns seriously. They need the Morrison government to realise that they will not be bought off with the title 'women' in a budget and they will not be bought off with sham investigations. They want genuine change.
Women in Australia should come out of this pandemic stronger than they were before. There should be a focus on women's work. There should be increases in pay for women who are doing the frontline work that is getting us through this pandemic: our aged-care workers, our childcare workers. These people should be paid appropriately. We would then know that our vulnerable Australians in aged care are being cared for as they should be. But this government, once again, is all announcement and no responsibility, no follow-through.
In the time remaining I would like to raise one further area where the Morrison government has stepped away from any sense of responsibility—that is, Australia's place in the world. Since the government came to office, in 2013, they've slashed Australia's official development assistance by more than $11.8 billion, hurting some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, particularly those in our region. In particular it's hurting women, because we know that throughout this pandemic, around the world, it is women who are being hit hardest.
I was pleased to be at a briefing last night with the Global Partnership for Education, and with Julia Gillard, who heads that up, to talk about the effect the pandemic has had on women's and girls' education, in particular girls' education in developing countries. We know that when there's a disruption like this in countries where the education system isn't as well-resourced as ours, women and girls get pulled out of school, and they don't go back. They have to start work. These are young girls of maybe 11 or 14. They have to start work or they get married off. They don't get to go back and get an education. We heard last night from Julia Gillard but also from the country manager from Save the Children's Papua New Guinea program, and she was talking about the fact that in Papua New Guinea there are currently no female politicians. She was saying how her hope is that she can get more young girls in Papua New Guinea educated, so that one day they too might be elected to their parliament to help build a better future for women in Papua New Guinea. But those women and girls won't get there without an investment in their education, and, unfortunately, with our aid budget going backwards, this government will not be contributing to helping those women and girls get the education they deserve.
This is an investment in their future, but it is obviously an investment also in all of our futures. As this pandemic has shown us, these things are global. We are linked to the rest of the world. Despite the Prime Minister thinking that a 'fortress Australia' mentality will get us through this crisis, these crises affect us all across the world. They hit developing countries harder, and there are a lot of these countries in our region. It is in our interests, both as good neighbours and as people who care about the rest of the world and who do want to see women and girls get a decent education, to support these people. And it is in our national interests, as people who live in a neighbourhood where we want people to be safe, where we want decent health systems, where we want decent education, for us to take up that mantle. So it's so disappointing to see that there was no significant investment in overseas development assistance in this budget and that the Australian aid budget has been cut by 31 per cent since this government took office. Australian aid is now at the least generous it has been at any point in the history of our providing it. We rank 21 of 29 in the OECD for aid, and we're the 10th richest country in the world. I think Australia's better than this. I think Australia is better than this government—this government that's about announcements, this government that's about spin, this government that never takes responsibility, this government that has dropped the ball when it comes to vaccines and when it comes to quarantine, this government that's putting us at risk.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022. For all the rhetoric, which we've heard a lot of from this government, this is a budget full of lost opportunities and one which, yet again—it's not for the first time—leaves the people of my electorate worse off.
When you look behind the rhetoric, there really is no substantive policy framework to be found. In my electorate, unfortunately, we don't even get the cameras, the fanfare and the announcements that eventually end up without any delivery. We don't get any of that, which some of my other colleagues have spoken about. We actually get nothing. So, if there's one overwhelming thread in the Morrison government's budget, it's that it actually fails to offer anything substantive to the Australian people and fails to account for how it will meet their real aspirations and their long-term aspirations that reach into the future prosperity of their children and their grandchildren. It goes to the government's lack of accountability when it comes to using public money to feed private coffers, which is why we need policies that reflect the practical realities on the ground and actually serve to deliver for everyday Australians—policies that go beyond rhetoric and afford people real opportunities.
That's the fundamental point of difference between us on this side of the House and those on the opposite side. Labor offers the Australian people the opportunity of a fresh start after eight long years of economic mismanagement by the Morrison government, and that's because Labor seizes on opportunities and, in particular, Australia's job opportunities. An Albanese Labor government will invest $100 million to support 10,000 new energy apprenticeships in a renewable energy industry that is poised to be part of our economic prosperity into the future. We will encourage apprentices to train in the new energy jobs of the future, and we need to start to speak about and articulate exactly where those energy jobs are and what they will be. We will deliver to apprentices who choose to train in the new energy industries up to $10,000—$2,000 on commencement and $2,000 a year for up to four years afterwards, including on successful completion. Why would these details behind Labor's policy framework be particularly important? It's because it speaks to the needs of the many people in my electorate who find obstacle after obstacle thrown in their way, especially the young people who are at a disadvantage when seeking out their first-year apprenticeships or traineeships. One of the main things that leaves people disheartened is that it's hard to get picked up as a second- or third-year apprentice when you couldn't get a look in for your first year to begin with. Then there are those who lose their job going into the final year of their apprenticeship and are left scrambling for an offer from someone to allow them to complete their qualification so that they can go on and establish themselves and work for a living in the area they have been trained in.
The reality speaks for itself. We have 140,000 fewer Australian apprentices today than we had when the coalition came to office. It's no wonder when, on top of all of this, billions are ripped out of TAFE and vocational training, which actually offer pathways and opportunities for people in my electorate. At a time of high unemployment and skills shortage, we're apparently supposed to entrust our economic recovery to a government that presides over 140,000 fewer apprenticeships today than eight years ago—a government that compounds the problem by ripping away the pathways that could actually address this crisis. How does the Morrison government propose to address this skills crisis, since it has presided over eight years of cuts to TAFE? They have been eight damaging years that have attacked the people in my community on two fronts: by reducing the availability of relevant pathways for new skills for young people, and by destroying opportunities for experienced workers looking to reskill or even upskill in emerging industries.
Compare and contrast the Morrison government's cuts to TAFE with the Victorian Labor state government's recent budget announcement of $60 million in funding for redevelopment of the Kangan Institute's Broadmeadows campus, which is in my electorate. Labor governments demonstrate that we value and deliver on the fact that Australian jobs must be good, secure jobs, driven in part by clear employment pathways that are all about delivering on fairness and opportunity, because a national recovery must be precisely that: truly national and all encompassing, focusing on jobs—good, secure well-paid jobs. These are the sorts of opportunities that make a real impact on the lives of many in my electorate who, for far too long, have had to contend with a two-track economy that I sometimes refer to as the three Ps: postcode, policy and prosperity. It is often the reality of these policies that their impact—whether you have it pretty good or pretty hard—can be discriminatory, depending on where you live. I know we live in strange times, but some things are just so far removed from reality that they're hard to even comprehend. By that I mean this: how can this government claim to speak for true believers when it has spent eight years trashing the very thing that is most dear to them: job fairness and security—a fair day's pay for a fair day's work?
The party of those opposite, the party of Work Choices, is an antiworker party. On this side of the House, job fairness and job security are not just empty slogans; they are at the heart of Labor's policy and our commitment to standing up for the interests of working people. That is why I'm very proud that an Albanese Labor government will legislate to criminalise wage theft. The figures reflected in a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers show that the scope and scale of wage theft in Australia is rampant across the board. The figure for the underpayment of Australian workers entitlements is $1.35 million every year, and I'm particularly concerned about its impact on migrants, who are disproportionately affected. Rather than ignoring this problem and playing political games, the Morrison government needs to pass legislation establishing criminal penalties for employers who are deliberately involved in wage theft. A government that claims to govern for all Australians, a government that wants to claim it speaks for the true believers, cannot preside over and enable systematic wage theft.
This undercutting of everyday workers who make the systems we rely on function seems to prevail across every sector that the Morrison government presides over. One has to look no further than our aged-care system as a case in point. It is a system where aged-care workers are being paid at the bottom of their award and where it's more lucrative to be working at McDonald's than it is to be caring for older Australians. Rather than adopting the recommendations of the royal commission to address this, the government simply takes note, like some sort of bystander simply walking past, detached from the reality and experiences of most Australians. These are some of our most important workers. They are working within a system that is, quite frankly, a mark of shame on our national character. What's occurring right across our aged-care system is a national disgrace. The horror stories and the gross neglect that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found really ought to make this government hang its head in shame. When you look into the details of the government's response to the royal commission, it really goes to show that they either are incompetent, insofar as they don't understand the real issues behind the gross neglect, or don't even wish to begin to address the real issues. My fear is that the Morrison government's response is very much a mixture of both incompetence and a lack of caring.
The royal commission recommended that strict accountability measures be put in place for providers, including public reporting that includes:
i. details of the provider's expenditure to meet the basic needs of residents, especially their nutritional needs, and will include spending on raw food, pre-processed food, bought-in food, kitchen staff … and the average number of residents
That was the royal commission's recommendation in relation to appropriate feeding of our aged-care residents. What was the government's response to this? It was simply:
The supplement will be payable once the residential aged care provider has given an undertaking that they will report to Government on expenditure on food on a quarterly basis.
That's a blank cheque to providers, with absolutely no accountability. It is not tied to the number of residents, to the care of older Australians or to a resident's nutritional needs in an aged-care system where somewhere between 22 per cent and 50 per cent of aged-care residents are malnourished. Instead it's a $3.2 billion gift to providers. We've seen how providers relish funds from the government in relation to their own spending, and we saw that in Victoria last year. There are no strings attached. There is nothing to ensure that public funding doesn't go to management bonuses and isn't redirected to benefit the bottom line of the provider. It really goes to where I began. Rather than addressing the needs of a significant part of our population, the Morrison government's policy responses instead are driven by one thing and one thing only: the use of public money to fill private coffers. That is one of the fundamental problems in aged care.
Stemming from this, one area which is of particular concern to many people in my electorate is the government's failure to adopt the royal commission's recommendation to meet older Australians' preference to age in place. This goes right to the heart of the issue of home-care packages. For migrant communities in my electorate, home care as an option quite often takes precedence over residential care. Often families are not inclined to have elderly parents sent to nursing homes. They do that only when it's absolutely necessary. How could you even begin to instil confidence in a system where specialised multilingual services in aged care are not up to scratch and where culturally appropriate residential care is seriously lacking? In a system that is defined by gross neglect, it's no wonder that people have no faith in its integrity.
The royal commission recognises this and calls on the government to deliver a home-care system that is demand driven rather than rationed. It's very clear that the government must immediately increase the home-care packages available and keep the waiting lists clear by the end of the year and onwards. It's the only way we're going to address the demand for home care amongst our elderly as we move forward. The Morrison government simply ignores this critical area. The waiting lists will, unfortunately, remain; care will be rationed; and clearly the neglect will continue.
There's a lot to be said about the neglect in this government's budget in aged care as well as in other areas, but I want to close on this: a budget which does not place people at the heart of policy considerations is a failed budget. It's clear that the people in my electorate are not a factor in the Morrison government's budget. It fails them, and it fails to deliver on the opportunities that should be open to all Australians, regardless of where they live, regardless of what their postcode is. Frankly, it's a budget of abandonment for the people I represent in the federal seat of Calwell.
Australia is now on track to head to $1 trillion of debt, and it is incumbent on those of us on this side of the House to look at the quality of that spending. You can't look at the quality of the spending by the Morrison government without looking at the question of scandals. We have seen a government replete with rorts, scandals and handouts to mates. The sheer volume of the scandals can sometimes overwhelm. Each scandal crowds out the previous one. So I want to take the House through a succession of scandals by the Morrison government and talk about the misuse of public money involved in that. I do so in the context of a budget which has devoted some $9 billion to 20 slush funds in which ministers have discretion over spending as they have over past spends. We have seen the annual spend by Commonwealth departments on contractors and consultants to do work formerly carried out by public servants more than double over the past five years and now total more than $5 billion a year.
In 2017 Home Affairs awarded $423 million in contracts to a little-known company called Paladin to provide asylum seeker security and site services on Manus Island. At that time, Paladin's registered address was a beach shack on Kangaroo Island and it had just $50,000 in capital. While Paladin received around $1,400 per asylum seeker per day, it paid its security guards $450 a month. The company made $1.3 million in profits every week, and documents released to the Senate in September 2019 revealed that Paladin breached its key performance indicators thousands of times.
In April 2018 we had an announcement from then Prime Minister Turnbull that the government would give $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, an organisation with six full-time staff, annual revenue of about $10 million and no track record of managing half a billion dollars in Commonwealth funds. Managing Director Anna Marsden said the charity had never asked for the money. The first time they knew about it was when the offer was made. When the Australian National Audit Office examined the awarding of the grant, it found both planning and oversight to be inadequate. The department said that was because the Great Barrier Reef Foundation would leverage new contributions, and the foundation itself said it aimed to attract some $357 million from other sources, but by July 2020 it had raised only $22 million of in-kind donations. How much cash did it raise? None at all.
We had in 2017 the example of Eastern Australia Agriculture, a company co-founded by Minister Angus Taylor. Eastern Australia Agriculture was paid for overland flows. The overland flows are hard to price, because floodwaters only occur irregularly, but a recent purchase had been $800 per megalitre. Other valuations had been between $1,100 and $2,300 per megalitre. The eventual price paid to Eastern Australia Agriculture by the Commonwealth was $2,745 per megalitre. If you take the mid range of what the department had priced such rights at, they paid Eastern Australia Agriculture nearly double the mid-range price. Indeed, Eastern Australia Agriculture had self-valued its entire water holdings at $79.5 million in 2016. Just the next year the Commonwealth paid them more money for less than half of their overland flow water. Indeed, it wasn't the better half; it was the worse half: the less reliable half of their overland flow water.
Eastern Australia Agriculture booked a $52 million profit on the transaction and sent it off to their parent company, headquartered in the Cayman Islands. You can't make this stuff up. At a time when Australia should be cracking down on tax havens, we had a company founded by a minister, located in a tax haven, receiving excessive payments from the federal government itself.
The Australian Federal Police were called in to investigate the Leppington Triangle land purchase, in which the department approved the purchase of 12 hectares of land near the proposed Western Sydney airport and paid $30 million for land that had been valued at $3 million just a year earlier. The overpayment in that case didn't lead to any convictions of incompetence or wrongdoing, and the Australian Federal Police have yet to bring to account those who paid 10 times the value of the land.
As Karen Middleton noted in the Saturday Paper:
In the federal election period between March 1 and May 23—
almost $2 billion in grants across 20 programs were effectively rubberstamped through regulations.
One of these was the so-called sports rorts affair, in which colour-coded spreadsheets were used to hand out funds, which were skewed towards coalition seats in a deeply partisan manner. There was the Urban Congestion Fund: $3 billion spent; 83 per cent went to coalition seats or target seats for the coalition—marginal Labor seats. There was the $3 billion spent via the Community Development Grants Program, of which coalition seats received more than 75 per cent. There was the $150 million Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream Program, which ended up being spent on building swimming pools in just 11 seats that were held by the Liberal Party and the National Party. There were no guidelines, no tenders, no application processes, and yet, according to the ABC, there were 41 spending promises made from that fund before the 2019 election.
There was the $22 million Communities Environment Program, in which one marginal Liberal seat holder announced $40,000 of funding before the program was even opened. There was the $55 million Safer Communities Fund, better known as the 'safer seats fund', administered by Minister Peter Dutton. There were Minister Paul Fletcher's multiple election campaign grants. A $60 million Mutual Understanding, Support, Tolerance, Engagement and Respect initiative distributed grants on a closed, noncompetitive basis that required an invitation to apply for it. There's the Building Better Regions Fund, recently analysed by journalist Rosie Lewis from the Australian, who found that 27 per cent of the funds went to the electorates of the four ministers who were overseeing it. There are the Regional Growth Fund, the Drought Communities Program, the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages—all of which disproportionately went to coalition seats.
We've had a $5 million grant awarded to CT Group, formerly Crosby Textor, to conduct research relating to a small-business campaign, for which the public never got to see any of the results. There was the contract in 2020 to Resolve Strategic, worth more than $1 million, awarded by Treasury, for market research informing the government's so-called comeback campaign. This is fundamentally Liberal Party research being paid for by taxpayers.
And then we have the incident of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer billing taxpayers almost $5,000 to take the Prime Minister's private jet from Canberra to Sydney for Lachlan Murdoch's 2018 Christmas party. Special purpose aircraft must only be used where the primary reason is parliamentary business, and there was not even an attempt to justify it. I've drawn, in much of this, on research done by Nick Feik, published in the Monthly, in which he says:
When was the last time we heard a Coalition minister cite principles of responsibility, or reveal salient facts and documents voluntarily, or pledge to support an organisation or individual that had revealed something that embarrassed the government?
Crikey has recently noted the 27 falsehoods that they can identify to the Prime Minister, some of which go precisely to the issues I've been talking about today. I won't use the word that Crikey has used to describe it, but there are, thankfully, a range of synonyms. There was the fabrication in question time on 7 December 2020, where the Prime Minister said:
I thank the member for his question and wonder why he'd want to bring personalities into this, given that Mr Rudd has done the same thing—
in other words, leaving the country during the pandemic. He was forced to apologise for that the same day.
Then there was the falsification by the Prime Minister on 29 September 2020, claiming that if went go down to Port Botany or Kurnell and looked out you could see ships which were carrying medical supplies being delayed. The number of ships was considerably lower than the Prime Minister had claimed and none of them contained medical supplies.
There was the departure from the truth in which the Prime Minister said on 7 September 2020, 'The agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue.' However, the Australian government is not even in the top 100 countries for the vaccine rollout.
In relation to the sports rorts affair, the Prime Minister said on 13 May 2020, 'The only authority sought from the Prime Minister's office and from me was in relation to announcements.' But this was clearly a myth, a flight of fancy, a figment of the imagination, because the Australian National Audit Office had shown that the Prime Minister's office dictated the removal and addition of sports grants to the Minister for Sport's office for the political benefit of the government. The Prime Minister uttered another half-truth, a falsity, on 29 January 2020, saying, 'It is important to note that the Auditor-General did not find there were any ineligible projects that were funded under the scheme.' In fact, officials from the Australian National Audit Office had told the Senate inquiry that 43 per cent of the projects funded under the program were ineligible when agreements were signed.
There was the statement by the Prime Minister on 20 January 2020—'Our per capita emissions will fall by half over the next 10 years.' This was clearly a tall story, a whopper, a pork pie, because the government's own December 2019 emissions forecast showed a fall of 19 per cent, not 50 per cent, over the next year. We had the Prime Minister in an interview with David Speers on 12 January 2020, saying, 'Emissions today are 50 million tonnes less on average each year under our government than under the previous government.' This was clearly some form of dissimulation, a terminological inexactitude, a form of fiction. It is in fact the case that, according to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data, emissions were down five million tonnes, not 50 million tonnes. Of course, little of that has anything to do with the Prime Minister's policies.
The Prime Minister said on 4 January 2020, via Twitter, 'The video message the Liberal Party ran during the summer bushfires simply communicates the government's policy decisions and the actions the government is undertaking to the public.' This is some form of mendacity, deceit and duplicity when in fact the ad was on behalf of the Liberal Party and authorised by the Liberal Party and the homepage solicited donations to the Liberal Party—
I withdraw. There's the statement by the Prime Minister on 3 January 2020, saying: 'We took the advice to the fire commissioners, and the fire commissioners' advice was the same as that which is being provided. So we've acted on that advice.' In fact, there had been a request for funding by the National Aerial Fire Centre which was refused by the government. That's another form of perjury, misleading the Australian people. It's a sham and a ruse. The Prime Minister needs to be straight with the Australian people and end the rorts.
The Morrison government is responsible for our aged-care system. It is clearly a Commonwealth responsibility. In fact, because of his actions as minister and Treasurer, Prime Minister Morrison has a personal responsibility for the billions cut from our aged-care system. Prime Minister Morrison and his cronies are responsible for the terrible neglect identified by the royal commission. The nation has been shocked and horrified at the neglect uncovered during the royal commission hearings—horrific neglect including residents of aged care with maggots in wounds, and two-thirds of residents being malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. For eight long years the coalition government have failed to listen to our valuable Australians who are in aged care. They've failed to listen to the families of aged-care residents. They've failed to listen to the workers who give so much in aged care. In fact, they've treated them almost with contempt. The coalition have failed to listen to 22 expert reports. The time for kicking the can down the road is over now. Prime Minister Morrison can't say, 'Look, I don't hold a Zimmer frame, mate.'
Sadly, now that the royal commission into aged care has handed down its final report, the Morrison government's response shows that they haven't listened to the royal commissioners either. The facts were horrific, but the coalition's response is woeful. They have no plan for reform that will improve aged care in the long term. They've fobbed off, delayed or outright rejected key recommendations. For example, they have not committed to improving wages for our overstretched, undervalued aged-care workers. Aged-care workers caring four our most vulnerable citizens are being paid less than someone working at McDonald's. The royal commission recommended immediately increasing the basic daily fee by $10 per resident per day to improve nutritional and care outcomes. The government's response? They decided to throw $3.2 billion to providers without any of the reporting requirements laid out by the royal commission. There's no way to ensure that this money will actually go to food and care; it will probably end up as bonuses for management. We need more meals, Prime Minister, not more Maseratis. They've failed to clear the home-care package waitlist. There are 100,000 Australians who need extra support to safely stay in their own homes, but the Morrison government has told them, 'Manana, manana.' The coalition has ignored the royal commission's recommendation to require a nurse to be on duty 24/7 in every residential care facility. They just ignored that recommendation altogether. It was a key recommendation that is core to improving care for older Australians in our aged-care facilities. Prime Minister Morrison also shirked the main increase to mandatory care minutes in residential aged care. Staffing levels are central to the many of the quality care problems in residential aged care. We know we're going to need an additional 700,000 workers in aged care by 2050 to cope with our ageing population. There is no way that is achievable when these jobs are disrespected and undervalued by this government. After eight long years of neglect, the Morrison government's response to the recommendations of the royal commission is utterly shameful. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister should hang their heads in shame.
When I'm home in Moreton, every morning I walk through the beautiful Toohey Forest. Toohey Forest is typical of the open eucalypt forest that once covered Greater Brisbane. As well as being a favourite walking and riding spot for locals, it is home to over 400 species of native wildlife and plants. Professor Darryl Jones from Griffith University—the campus adjoins Toohey Forest—says Toohey Forest is an ecological island in suburbia. It is estimated that about 30 koalas call Toohey Forest home. We're very fortunate to have a colony of koalas just 10 kilometres from the Brisbane CBD. For locals like me, the koalas are almost in our backyards.
We can't be complacent about these iconic Australian animals. Most koala populations are heading towards extinction. The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy ended in 2014, and the coalition government still hasn't delivered another one. They haven't even delivered a recovery plan for the koala, which was initially due by 2015. After the horrific bushfires last year, the Australian Conservation Foundation says, a recovery plan is now even more urgent. I don't want to see a future where our children or our grandchildren are reading about koalas in history books like we today do for the Tasmanian tiger. Sadly, Australia is heading down that path right now.
Australia's environment is in decline. National icons like the koala have died in record numbers. Environment department funding has been gutted by 40 per cent. Successive ministers in the coalition government have run the department into the ground, and the Morrison government has little idea what has happened to our threatened species. It's a disgrace—a national disgrace. The decisions we take now will impact Australia's national icons and less charismatic species and, vitally, our biosecurity for generations to come. Under the coalition, 170 out of 171 outstanding threatened species recovery plans are overdue, and the Morrison government has no plan to get these done. Labor's shadow minister for the environment and water, my next-door neighbour, has called on the government, in parliament, to make a threatened species recovery plan and to make a new national koala conservation strategy. We need the Morrison government to do more to protect this important national icon, especially after thousands of koalas perished during the bushfires in 2019 and last year. We need the Morrison government to act now. Time is running out for our threatened species like the koala.
My heart is breaking for Victorians who today are going into their fourth lockdown due to COVID-19. I know that this is very, very hard personally for families. I thank all Victorians for doing this for all of us. Until we are all vaccinated this is the only way we can hope to contain this dreadful virus. I had my AstraZeneca vaccine a couple of weeks ago because I became eligible to get it. I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated now to do so as soon as they can.
Our rollout of vaccinations has been incredibly slow. It hasn't only been slow, it's been completely botched from the start. The AMA has called for a strong community information campaign in the face of recent research that reinforces anecdotal evidence that vaccine hesitancy rates in Australia are increasing. In the United States Dolly Parton and others came on board to encourage people to get vaccinated. That was a great US advertising campaign. In the United Kingdom Elton John was in their campaign. In New Zealand they had a 'strong pathway to freedom' campaign. What did Australia have? Nothing—effectively no advertising at all about getting vaccinated. The Prime Minister says it's not a race, but it is a race, a race against the next wave of COVID-19, should that happen. Our vaccination rollout is proceeding at a glacial pace. We only clicked over to one million doses in the middle of April, and prior to that the Prime Minister had said we would have four million doses by the end of March.
I have never been one to envy the US health system but let's look at them. The United States is putting four million doses into people's arms every single day. The United States has delivered 175 million doses and the Morrison government has delivered one million doses. Half of adult Americans are vaccinated. The rollout needs to happen much quicker than it currently is. Around the world we're seeing virus mutations or virus variants start spreading in countries that were previously doing as well as Australia—countries that obviously aren't an island state. Obviously we get the benefit of being an island state.
Before this latest outbreak in Melbourne there were 17 other outbreaks from hotel quarantine in the last six months. Just to be clear, the current outbreak developed from an outbreak in a quarantine hotel in South Australia and the person travelled to Victoria. It doesn't matter where it occurred, but we know that hotels are not built for quarantine. The Prime Minister has been warned for many, many months that hotels are built for tourism not medical quarantine. Quarantine is squarely the responsibility of the federal government, the Constitution says so. There is no shirking that. Why won't the Prime Minister act on recommendations he's received for months now to build purpose-built quarantine facilities that will take the pressure off our CBDs and keep Australians safe—maybe also put some dollars back into the regions? These outbreaks are costing Australians enormously. The Prime Minister had two jobs: to get Australians vaccinated and to facilitate safe quarantine for those arriving in Australia. He's failed at both of those jobs.
Recently I met with a group of residents from Eight Mile Plains, a suburb in my electorate. Most of the people I met with lived in London Street, Eight Mile Plains, and many of them were long-term residents—some have been there for over 40 years. London Street is not far from Brisbane Technology Park, which is local business hub in Moreton. The technology park is a great place for work—some great innovation occurs there. However, it's not the best place for parking. Most people have had to pay to park on site so most of the workers who used to park there for free decided to park on local streets like London Street because, understandably, they don't want to pay for parking. This, of course, upset the local residents because their small suburban streets became clogged by cars that parked all day long. So the LNP Brisbane City Council introduced parking restrictions that prevent people parking on streets like London Street between 7 am and 10 am, which you might think is a good thing, but, sadly, it also means that the residents now can't park outside the homes that some of them have lived in for 40 years. The residents have then been told, 'You are not eligible for a parking permit.' The story of the residents of London Street, Eight Mile Plains is a common story. We see the issue of paid parking and its impact on suburban parking time and time again. There are numerous business hubs, like Brisbane Technology Park, all over the city of Brisbane, but little attention is paid to the impact that an increase in the number of commuters will have on the surrounding local residential infrastructure. Paid parking came in under the LNP city council's watch, and it has had a significant impact on areas like Brisbane Technology Park. It's time the Brisbane City Council and Lord Mayor Schrinner reviewed the parking scheme for the residents of London Street, Eight Mile Plains, so that a more practical, workable solution can be reached. The current scheme is unworkable.
Working families in Moreton are struggling with the cost of child care. The most recent data shows that local childcare fees went up by 8.4 per cent in just 12 months. I know wages didn't go up by the same amount. Across the country, childcare fees have skyrocketed by 35.9 per cent since the Liberals were elected. Australians pay some of the highest childcare costs in the world. The Morrison government's childcare system has failed to keep childcare costs down. Many local parents have raised this with me in the streets and at street stalls. There is a reasons that business groups, economists and other experts are all calling for urgent reform when it comes to child care. KPMG has estimated that childcare reform could generate between 160,000 and 210,000 additional working days a week. That's the equivalent of 30,000 to 40,000 full-time jobs just from fixing up child care. Reforming child care could generate GDP growth of between $4 billion and $11 billion per annum. This is low-hanging fruit. Making child care cheaper has a triple dividend: it's good for parents, it's good for children and it's good for the economy. Reducing the cost of child care allows more parents to work more hours, and then our economy benefits.
The design of the current childcare system means that many second income earners, usually women, are financially disincentivised from working a fourth or a fifth day in the week, when they're making those juggling decisions. In some cases, families lose money if the second income earner works more than three days. Even though the work is available, they would end up losing money. Labor's plan will cut childcare fees and put more money into the pockets of working families straightaway. Under our plan, 97 per cent of families will save money. What will we do? Labor will scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap which often sees women losing money for that extra day's work; we'll lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent; and we'll increase childcare subsidy rates and taper them for every family earning less than $530,000. Labor's cheaper childcare policy will be great for local families. More importantly, it will be helping the Australian economic recovery. This will be a boost in productivity and a boost for all families. We need the Labor Party to be elected so that we can roll out a cheaper, more affordable childcare system.
I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and the related bills before the House. I came to this place with a number of goals and objectives. One simple goal, however, that has guided me since I was first elected, is to be a voice for Macarthur and for my constituents. Being elected to the House of Representatives has been the greatest honour of my life, and the fact that my community placed their trust in me to be their voice and their advocate on the federal stage was incredibly humbling. I have been determined from day one to repay that trust, to be a voice for Macarthur and to advocate for my region's needs.
We've had some pretty good wins despite being in opposition. We've been able to get some good things done, including a number of very important social projects. I have always approached this job in a spirit of bipartisanship and through engaging with the private sector, working with the public sector and trying to bring people together. The wins that we've had—like securing funding to finally upgrade the Wedderburn bridge, which used to flood all the time, and working with the state government to fund the Shepherd centre of excellence for deaf children and their families—have been great. But my list of wants for Macarthur is very extensive, and the work has to go on.
I originally stood for public office to provide my community with a voice that would be heard across the country. I think their needs have been ignored for too long, and that includes being ignored by governments of all persuasions. On all levels, government has turned a blind eye to the needs of south-west Sydney for far too long, content with exploiting its local residents and businesses but providing little by way of investment in return. We've had massive development in Macarthur but without the infrastructure that people so desperately need. Throughout my time in office, I've observed that the coalition are content with upholding this status quo, and it's not good enough.
I'll spend a little bit of my time today again highlighting some of the needs of Macarthur residents. I have spoken before about the government's inability to consider the needs of young people, the contempt with which they've treated youth through their policies and their inaction, and their difficulties in understanding the problems that young people are facing in this incredibly complicated age. One of the other burdens the government has given us is huge debt that younger generations will be paying for a long, long time.
The budget has really not provided the support that my constituents need. In particular, in spite of the government promising infrastructure and talking big about providing support for the regions, in outer metropolitan south-west Sydney we are getting none of the infrastructure funding that we desperately need. There are major projects that are occurring in the area, such as Western Sydney airport, which is lacking in public transport from the south-west and lacking in the infrastructure that would enable my constituents to go to the airport precinct either for travel or for jobs.
There's waste on a massive scale in other areas. For example, the New South Wales state government gave Hornsby Shire Council over $70 million for a park. There's been misappropriation of taxpayers' money and a whole range of rorts, including sports rorts, council rorts and all sorts of rorts, but there is no accountability. The government's ability to provide desperately needed infrastructure such as the NBN has been compromised by their lack of commitment to providing a service in my electorate. The poorly maintained copper network is part of the reason why so many areas in Macarthur are not getting good NBN speeds.
The same man who criticised the government for spending money to stimulate growth during the GFC, which Labor managed very well, is the same man now presiding over a government that's amassing $1 trillion of debt while giving nothing to the Macarthur electorate. It continues to throw money at some taxpayers, such as billionaires, while intentionally keeping the wages of everyday Australians stagnant. This Prime Minister and this tired government have no plan to address the flatlining wages of everyday Australians, unless you're fortunate enough to be on the Forbes rich list. This is a great injustice, and it perplexes me that the government continues to get away with it at the expense of ordinary taxpayers.
Time and time again, I reiterate, they find ways to say no to my community. They say no to a desperately needed rail line. I've been pushing very hard to have the heavy rail line extended from Leppington to Western Sydney airport. This would provide not only transport for the new suburbs that are popping up around the airport—such as Willowdale, Gregory Hills, Gledswood Hills and all those other new suburbs that people have not heard of before—but also a freight link and a corridor for infrastructure such as a fuel line, the NBN et cetera. Yet this government always says no to my electorate.
They say no to a desperately needed facility to address the shortfall of specialist services catering for children in schools in my electorate. Some suburbs, in spite of having thousands and thousands of children travelling long distances to school every day, are not being provided with a school in their local neighbourhood. We have some schools in my electorate that have 30 to 40 demountable classrooms—so many demountable classrooms that they no longer have playing fields, because these classrooms are put on their playing fields. We have schools that are so overcrowded that they have more than three times the number of children that they were built for. This means that parents can't drive their children to school, because the roads can't deal with the traffic from the mums and dads dropping their kids off.
There are no funds for local sporting clubs. It's just bizarre to me that this government could fund yacht clubs and golf clubs for millionaires yet can't find the funding to provide lighting for sportsgrounds in some of the poorest suburbs in New South Wales. The government always say no to a wage rise for our workers. Stagnant wage growth is a deliberately designed tactic of this government. However, in the pandemic, billionaires have got richer.
Macarthur residents are struggling to gain access to basic infrastructure and services, even in health care. The government's ignoring their needs. With the changes the government's made to the Area of Need classifications for general practice, many of the newer suburbs in my electorate cannot find GPs willing to work there because of the lack of encouragement and lack of financial support for them. So we have new suburbs with very young families and many children who can't get general practitioners. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was rung by Alicia, a mother who has two autistic children. She was not able to find a GP to see her children, in spite of the fact that the children had epilepsy and required medication reviews.
Macarthur residents are struggling to get local jobs. They have to travel long distances and pay huge tolls on our toll roads. They are being discriminated against because of this. Sometimes their toll payments are up to $150 a week, which is a huge amount for working families. There's been a collapse of our public hospital outpatient system. Many people who have chronic illness—for instance, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis or epilepsy—cannot be seen as outpatients at our public hospitals. They have to pay to be seen in specialists rooms, with gap fees of up to $200 or $300, which means they just don't access care, which leads to a much poorer prognosis. Yet this government ignores those inequities in health care.
I think budgets are about choices. The choices that are being made today discriminate against many residents of Macarthur. My community always shoulder their fair share of the massive burden of the government's budget, but they deserve a fair return for what they're doing. They're young working families and they deserve a return on their taxes. As I have said, some of the new suburbs lack schools. Even in those that do have schools, the schools are on such a small footprint that they do not have adequate playing areas. The government needs to make sure that everyone has equitable access to education, and my community is being denied.
Without adequate investment, our ever-growing new suburbs are doomed to remain isolated. Without adequate public transport, our roads are destined to remain congested. With a lack of local jobs, residents will continue to be forced to commute for hours and hours every day to work. That commute takes away from family time. Families need their parents with them as much as possible. It is not fair for Macarthur families. Those opposite can continue to champion their infrastructure spend, but none of it is happening in Macarthur. The refusal to invest in our community will have dire consequences into the future. Those opposite do not seem to have a grasp on the basics of equitable support for communities. People from my community are concerned about the cost of living, how to make ends meet, how to put a roof over their heads, how to put food on the table and having quality time with their family. They deserve better.
Droves and droves of young families are moving to Macarthur each year. It's one of the fastest growing electorates in the country. I see these families all the time—at shopping centres, in my office and at events—and it's clear to me that they all value quality time with their family and quality time in their local area. Macarthur residents don't want to spend hours commuting to work every day and don't want to be stuck on the M5 or along Camden Valley Way; that time would be much better spent with their families.
Macarthur is struggling very much in the area of health care. Money is being spent on a new hospital but no money is being spent on people to staff it. Those who have been able to access health care in the past are now finding longer and longer waiting lists for elective surgery and longer and longer waiting times in our emergency departments. When the already extended outpatient clinics do exist, people have huge difficulty in getting into them, with waiting times sometimes over one year.
Order! It being 1.30 pm, the debate is interrupted. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the date will be made for the order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed on a future date. In accordance with the resolution agreed to on 13 May 2021, the Federation Chamber stands adjourned until 12.30 pm on Tuesday 1 June 2021.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 13:30