Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the coalition's federal budget because there are not too many on their side who speak about it anymore. We had this budget last month. The government hardly talk about it anymore, and the reason is that it's a budget that basically goes against everything that they portrayed themselves as for years.
The coalition said for years, when we were responding to the GFC and putting the stimulus into the economy to make sure we avoided recession, that they didn't want to see debts and deficits for as far as the eye can see. They've now brought in a budget that will see debt climb to $1 trillion, with deficits as far as the eye can see. It's going to be at least a decade before we clear these deficits, and they have no problem with that. They've walked away from the debt and deficit mantra. It's no longer a big issue for them. They spend money every time. For any spending that's proposed by the opposition, by Labor, we get challenged on where we find the money. These people are operating a printing press. For every single promise that they're putting out, they're just cranking that printing press. There's more money going out the door. There's more debt that's being racked up. They don't care about it, because they've walked away from who they are.
This budget is not a budget with some sort of central focus or theme or something that they're using to drive the whole shape of the budget. There's only one thing in there, and that is fixes—political fixes for all the problems that they have to try and get those off the table. There's no longer-term, genuine strategy about where they're going to head in relation to this.
In the industry portfolio in particular, the portfolio that I cover as a shadow minister, we see a whole lot of ideas announced, but there is no central game plan about what they're going to do. In the last year or so, when we couldn't in the middle of a pandemic make the things that Australians would expect could be manufactured in this country, Australians have not been able to get those items and those products when they need them the most, because we pretty much decimated manufacturing in this country and this government does not believe in manufacturing things in Australia. They believe in manufacturing as a prop, as a slogan or as something to get them out of trouble, but they don't believe in it genuinely. Their heart is not in it.
When they first came into office, the first thing they was to rip out everything that was in place to help work with industry to guide the development of manufacturing longer term. The then Prime Minister Abbott and co tore up all that funding, tore up all that work and decided that that was not something that they would support. They goaded the car manufacturers out of the place, and as a result we saw car manufacturing—and I'm proud to say Labor's side under Chifley had pushed for the establishment of car manufacturing in this country; it provided a lot of full-time, great work for Australians and a lot of small businesses and other providers. That was all gone.
Now the coalition have brought in, hurriedly in the last six months or so, this whole mess of a strategy that they've got. They call it a Modern Manufacturing Strategy. There's a Modern Manufacturing Initiative, a Manufacturing Modernisation Fund and a supply chain program. There's a whole lot of stuff that is going to generate 80,000 jobs, 300,000 jobs or 2,600 jobs over 10 years. The spending is now. The spending is in 10 years. It's a complete mess. It is only designed for them to be able to say that they're doing something about manufacturing. There is no central cent. There is nothing at the core of this government that talks about what they will do to genuinely establish manufacturing in this country in terms of its renaissance and its longer-term viability.
They crowed about the fact that all these jobs came back into manufacturing and then they tried to claim credit for it. It wasn't because of anything the government did. All their programs only just came in. It would be a true miracle if anything this government did actually worked. What does work is the stunt. What does work is the media announcement. What does work is the production of press releases that go out but not the stuff of substance, not the stuff that will see them through.
They also announced, for example, this whole idea that we were going to have—and we've heard it a lot—patent boxes. Patent boxes were the big thing they were going to bring in under this budget, and we heard the Treasurer announce it with great flourish in the budget. Bear in mind that it is not the first time they've done it. In fact, in 2015 the Coalition announced that they were considering a patent box concept. They did a review. It went nowhere. That was 2015. It is 2021. In 2015 they announced that they were thinking about a patent box. They're now saying that from July 2022 the patent box will tax income derived from Australian medical and biotech patents at a 17 per cent effective rate. These patent boxes are not an idea that the government has come up with on its own. The big innovators have come up with stealing someone else's idea. They've been around since the seventies, introduced in Ireland in 1973. France introduced a form of them in '79. The UK has had them since 2013.
In 2015 a European Commission report examined the effect of patent boxes on 2,000 companies in 12 countries from the year 2000 to 2011, and it found patent boxes benefited companies financially but had a limited effect on increasing local research and development capability. So would it run any differently in Australia? We'll wait to see what the government says, but so far it looks like the patent box is a great innovation for company products and does not do very much in terms of innovative output. We have to see what's going to happen there.
The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who announced the patent box in his budget in 2021—I just remembered. As soon as he announced it, I was thinking, 'Where have I heard him mention it before?' In 2019 he had this bright idea that he was going to bring in patent boxes. That was two years ago. So they looked at it in 2015, they talked about it in 2019 and they announced it in 2021. There's the speed of action by the coalition. He talked about it at a business event in London. He said to the then Treasury secretary, Phil Gaetjens, he'd have a few tax policies to work on when he got home. That's the way innovation policy is devised in the Coalition. Like bowerbirds they collect an idea here and there. Then they just put it all together and think it's all going to work. Mash it altogether and somehow it will deliver for the country. That is not the way that legitimate innovation policy should run. It shouldn't be that the latest shiny thing is the thing you put on top of the pile. They should have a way in which they will genuinely work it through, because the jury is still out on the validity of these as a concept. For example, in their supplementary submission to the Inquiry into Australia's Future in Research and Innovation, IP Australia said:
… patent boxes raise serious questions relating to tax competition, with governments effectively engaging in a race to the bottom… patent boxes do not necessarily induce research and development, and … may speed the trend for firms to separate patent income from underlying R&D activity, because of the increased tax incentives for mobile income.
Further, in reviewing the patent box regimes of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK:
… the increase in tax revenue from a greater number of patents in each country is not offset by the reduced tax revenues from patent box tax breaks.
I have a genuinely open mind. If there is a benefit out this we should look at it. What I'd urge people in the sector, who are attracted to the idea of patent boxes, to think about is: (1) we have a track record from a coalition government of making big announcements where the detail is light and they can't follow through and (2) this cannot simply be a method to reduce a tax bill. It has to have legitimate R&D outcomes that benefit the country. The coalition does not have an organised approach to innovation in this country. It basically runs from idea to idea and then drops the last one that didn't work. I don't have a problem if ideas don't work and you want to find something to improve, but there is no coherent thread through the work that they do.
Where they are innovative is in stealing a lot of Labor policies. We've been arguing for ages that they should get their focus together on artificial intelligence, which is an economic and national security priority. We've been saying that for years. We announced in 2018 that this government needs to spend $30 million over four years on AI capability for the nation when our neighbours up north were spending five times that. We also called for the establishment of a national centre of AI excellence. In this budget they've set it up.
We've been saying for ages that digital skills in this nation are an issue. Even in the latest digital pulse survey, done by Deloitte for the Australian Computer Society, they're predicting that there might be up to 520,000 more people with ICT qualifications needed by 2026. We need to see more work done on that. We have been pushing for skills in that area. Knowing of the massive skill shortages in the ICT and the tech space the government have finally announced that they'll do some stuff with regard to that in this budget.
I am also surprised to see some moves to cut capabilities out of Data61. Apparently the future of core components within Data61 has been left up in the air. Seventy jobs are predicted to be lost as a result of funding cuts to Data61—within CSIRO. Significant staff cuts—despite the CSIRO receiving more than $100 million in extra funding for artificial intelligence efforts. In a recent announcement, the science agency would be investing a further $100 million over four years into priority research areas. We are seeing more happening in there which we will be pursuing as well.
On Industry Growth Centres, apparently there was a secret report that backed the Industry Growth Centres. An initial evaluation of the six growth centres highlighted though that there was inadequate funding and that the centres had an inability to change the fortunes of the sectors in which they operate as a result of it. According to the report, in particular the growth centres lack of resourcing and structures to drive transformational change at a sectoral level was highlighted as an issue; their funding envelope is small, relative to that of comparable international programs, such as the UK's catapult program; and, finally, additional funding is required for the growth centres to achieve scale. This is the type of stuff we should be seeing money go into, rather than a quick knee-jerk reaction to embrace a new concept that is just basically—for example, patent boxes on the face of it look like a way to reduce someone's tax bill rather than create longer term, value-added innovation activity and we're not seeing it.
While it's too soon to assess the magnitude of some of the changes in the reporting of the growth centres that have occurred, ACIL Allen considers that the growth centres have aimed high and the magnitude of their impact is likely to be large. However, the impact is company-specific and not industry-wide. This is an issue. We need to be able to see industry-wide impacts through serious funding of growth centres, particularly in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, food and agribusiness, med tech, pharmaceuticals, mining, technology, services, and oil, gas and energy resources. These all mean a great deal to the country. We should be backing them in and we're not. Again, we will be following this through. There have been a whole lot of announcements in the industry space from this government. But, as I said, beyond the announcement is deficiency of detail.
I'll look quickly at my own area. In my part of Western Sydney, 200,000 people are moving in. The infrastructure cannot cope. We do not have the federal Liberal government and the state Liberal government working together on this. We had the government announce that they were spending an extra $10 billion on infrastructure—and, by that, I mean borrowing $10 billion extra—when it turns out they're underspending to the tune of $1.2 billion a year in their infrastructure budget. How can they underspend when areas like mine are crying out for major upgrades of roads or the use of smart infrastructure funding to help open up areas and give access to low-socioeconomic areas to get young people from those families jobs in high-economic and commercial growth areas? We need to see that happening more and more.
This New South Wales government is completely terrible at infrastructure planning and delivery, and the federal government aid and abet them. So they have an underspend. The amazing thing is the government borrowed $10 billion to underspend $7 billion on infrastructure. They claim to be great economic managers when they can't actually spend the money on things people in my area need. On the issue of infrastructure, we particularly need to see a budget that actually delivers for people that are stuck on congested trains. There is no investment in public transport, there's completely underinvestment in road transport and there's a failure to deliver the infrastructure that people need. Again, the government are big on announcement and poor on delivery, and the Australian people will suffer as a result of that deficiency.
I'm very happy to rise this evening to talk about the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and related bills. It seems I'm following my colleague the shadow industry minister because government members have stopped debating the budget bill. That says something about the lack of confidence that the government members have in the budget. It sank without trace. Typical of the Treasurer, anything in it that might have been worth something was leaked beforehand. Then, of course, by the time he delivered the budget, everyone knew what was in it and no-one sought to prosecute the argument that it was of any use because, if you look to the budget, you see the government making clear that they are moving very quickly to a $1 trillion of debt as a result of their mismanagement. We should remember that most of the debt accumulated under this government was prior to the pandemic, something that the government is seeking to say otherwise about.
There is a whole series of things about the budget that allow us to properly identify the deficiencies of the government—not just failure to manage debt prior to the pandemic but also a failure to provide sufficient support to defence capability. We have been watching the recent defence minister publicly speak up on the capability of the government with respect to defence capability. However, over the forward estimates there is a cut to the defence capital budget of more than $10 billion. Indeed, because of the failure of the government—remembering that this government has had six defence ministers in eight years—to properly manage the largest defence asset contracts in this nation's history, we are in a situation where we are seeing billions and billions of dollars of taxpayers' dollars being wasted. In the case of the Future Submarine program, we are seeing the expenditure blow out from $50 billion to $89 billion. With respect to the frigates program we've seen an estimated cost blowout of $10 billion. Returning to the Future Submarine program, we've seen the date of the first submarine being in the water delayed by up to a decade. Instead of the first submarine under this program being in the water mid-decade, it's likely to happen mid-2030s. That failure to manage these contracts means that we are left exposed in terms of our national security and defence capability. That is of course letting down the Australian Defence Force and letting down this nation.
It's really up to the government to do better—to right the wrongs and rectify the deficiencies to the extent that they possibly can, given their remarkable dereliction over the past eight years—and to start to focus on the things that matter. With respect to national security, ensuring that the defence contracts are delivered on time and on budget is critical. As I say, these are huge expenditure items. Given the relative instability, the rise of anxieties and concerns in the region and globally, it is urgent that the government get on top of these matters. We've yet to see that play out sufficiently.
It doesn't seem to matter whether or not there are changes to the ministerial line-up. There's no doubt in my mind, and in the minds of others, such as defence experts, that the revolving door of Defence that has been on show has meant there has not been a minister in the position over a sufficiently long period to manage these defence contracts.
An opposition member interjecting—
Yes. Thank you. A good colleague from Queensland is confirming my proposition that we do need to do better. Indeed, if we were to have a minister last a year or more, maybe it would help, but, frankly, there have been too many mistakes and too many commitments to the Australian public that have not been realised. Before the 2016 election, there was a commitment by the then minister, Christopher Pyne, that 90 per cent of the build of the future submarines would be in Australia. That did not materialise. After the 2016 election, having gone to the election with a promise of a 90 per cent local content spend, the government revised its commitment to local content and suggested there'd be a 60 per cent local content spend. Of course, that has not been realised either. It became apparent only some months ago that the defence contract that had been entered into with the French contractor, Naval Group, did not prescribe, through any enforceable provision, a minimum 60 per cent local content. We then had the spectacle of the head of Naval Group having to travel from France and quarantine for 14 days in Adelaide in order to meet the Minister for Defence, who was then not available to meet with him. That was for genuine reasons, but it has left the completely unacceptable situation where the largest defence asset contract in Australia's history has been mismanaged to such a degree. There's been a failure to get the subs into the water and a failure to keep the money in check, and it's therefore a terrible reflection of the government's inability to manage contracts.
I say to the government and the minister: you don't get to boast about increasing defence expenditure if the increase is only because you've blown out the defence contracts. You don't get to say, 'We're spending $40 billion more on defence,' because your defence contract went from $50 billion to $90 billion. That is not a commendation of any good governance, and it's not really in the interests of the nation for overspends to be counted as very good spending, as the government seeks to do. There are grave concerns by many about this failure. There's a complete mismatch; there is a contrast between the elevation of the rhetoric by the government with respect to national security and the failure and deficiency to deliver the contracts, to deliver the defence capability that our Defence Force needs and that our country needs. This yawning gap between government rhetoric and defence asset delivery is getting wider and wider, and we don't see any efforts by the government to fix it. Rhetoric will not fix it.
Today in estimates we witnessed some remarkable admissions made by the Secretary of the Department of Defence. Having promised that the submarines would be built in Australia, having promised that the hulls would be built in Australia, when pushed and asked and pressed, the Secretary of the Department of Defence had to admit that the possibility of the submarine hulls being built in this country is predicated upon our technical capability. And, of course, that is unknown. You don't get to say something is a surety subject to another matter, subject to X, but we just don't know what 'X' is. But that's what the government is seeking to convince the Australian public—that we will build things in this country. Yet we're not able to explain whether we have the technical capability to do so. That is a major problem. It is a fundamental breach of a commitment made by the Prime Minister and this government to the Australian people—over multiple elections, I might add—and it continues to be asserted by the defence minister.
We need to reconcile the admissions made by the Secretary of the Department of Defence in estimates today with the rhetorical statements made by the minister. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister or the defence minister to suggest that the submarines that we've contracted the French contractor, Naval Group, to build will be built here or predominantly built here; yet, when we push on that issue, it is clear that it is not resolved. We don't know the answer—or, if the government does know the answer, they're not telling the Australian public the reality of that situation at all, and that needs to change.
It is incumbent on this government to come clean. Historically, if you compare this government with previous governments, we know it is one which likes to hide many, many things, whether it's an on-water matter or there is some other reason why they can't tell the public why they're spending money in a particular way or how much they're spending. It's not good enough for the government to continue to hide behind vague, nebulous answers to simple questions about whether in fact our defence industry businesses and our defence industry workers will get the chance to benefit from enormous amounts of taxpayer money. It's not just about jobs and it's not just about businesses; it's about sovereign capability. We need a defence industry that can help build defence assets and maintain them, because that is good for our economy and it's good for national security. Without the capability, the skills and the know-how to build future defence assets, we are exposed. So this is an economic issue and a national security issue. The government have no answers to this question and refuse to come clean as to the situation with respect to these defence assets. They need to do better. We need to see the government account for the deficiencies in these defence contracts, because today's admissions are very, very disturbing.
When asked precisely by Senator Wong, the Secretary of the Department of Defence could not unequivocally say that the three hulls, the first three submarines under the Attack class program, would be built here, notwithstanding that that was a commitment made by this government, this Prime Minister and this defence minister. That is not good enough, and the Australian public deserve to know what is happening with respect to that. So there are many, many questions that need answering in relation to that matter.
We have, of course, issues with the frigate program, which I've gone to in earlier contributions in this place. We have questions around, for example, even the decision to have a royal commission into suicides among veterans and Defence personnel. We are glad that the government finally came to the position it did in relation to announcing a royal commission. I noticed, of course, that there is significant expenditure in the budget in relation to that commission, but there have been no terms of reference determined. There is no composition or architecture of the royal commission determined. We don't know who the commissioners will be. These are matters that really concern veterans and Defence personnel and their families, and we need to know answers to this.
It seems to me that the defence minister is more interested in cancelling tea at a Defence site than in actually delivering future submarines. I think it would be better for him to focus more on delivering Defence asset contracts or getting the architecture of the royal commission on this blight, with the huge number of tragic suicides we've seen. That's the focus that the government needs to attend to, not this gratuitous waste of time on matters that are not important. They're ephemeral. They're not fundamental to the interests of Defence personnel or their families. They're not fundamental to the national security of this nation. They are distractions by a government that's lost control of the biggest defence contracts in this nation's history, and that has to change.
So we say to the government that, if they want to be taken seriously, they need to start accounting for where the Defence assets will be built; when they will be built; whether they're built on time or delayed; whether, in fact, they can rein in the spending in relation to these huge Defence contracts; and whether, in fact, defence industry will be provided with sufficient business and employment following from the expenditure in this area. These are the questions that people want to know the answers to, yet to date we've had no answers from the Prime Minister or the defence minister, and for that they need to be condemned.
This is a budget, of course, that's really underlined that the government has managed to put us in almost $1 trillion of debt, most of which happened prior to the pandemic. It also highlights the failure to properly manage defence contracts, which, of course, undermines our national security.
As is known, during the approps—in this case, the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022—the relevance rule doesn't matter, so there will be a series of speeches that probably won't link together terribly well in Hansard.
But there are a few things that I want to get on the record. First of all, as I speak, Victoria, as we know, is in another lockdown. It's No. 6 of the snap lockdowns that we've had in the past year. What's becoming clear is that the federal government's botched vaccine rollout and its refusal to create a safe national quarantine system means that we'll be living with snap lockdowns like this for some time to come. Live entertainment and events businesses had only just gotten back on their feet. It's been great to see the social media and people going to events again, but I think a whole lot of people, and the government in particular, have not understood the commercial reality of these businesses.
The government's response, first of all, was to design JobKeeper in such a way that, if you were going to exclude as many people in the arts and entertainment sector as possible, you'd design it exactly the way they did. Yes, it's true when the minister says, 'Oh, but the majority of the people in the sector got onto JobKeeper.' Yes, that's true: the majority did. But the entire sector was shut down, so that leaves you with many hundreds of thousands of people being left with nothing. Instead of having a systematic approach to dealing with it, which a wage subsidy would have been if it had been properly designed, the government have gone down the path of a grants program. A grants program does help some businesses—I get that—but it does not provide any help for what's happening with snap lockdowns.
With snap lockdowns, businesses that have invested in an event going ahead then discover that they have to return the cost of the ticket sales and pay their liabilities. Now, that sort of model just says to people, 'You're better off not taking the risk.' These are commercial ventures. The only reason some of them are not currently commercial is good public health decisions that are being made by government. Think about it this way: when Bluesfest was cancelled last year, it had pandemic insurance because you could have pandemic insurance. You can insure against an event that has not yet commenced. You can't ring up during a cyclone and take out insurance for the current cyclone; they will only give it to you for the next one. Pandemic insurance works the same way. So when Bluesfest was cancelled the second time, they could get insurance against future pandemics, but not against COVID-19. Other festivals are now working their way through the question: do they go ahead at all? Going ahead means it may well be an event that is uninsurable, that is entirely outside their control, and if it occurs they will go bankrupt.
There is a really simple policy around this. We've been calling for it for a long time. Some of the minor parties, including representatives in the chamber right now, have been calling for it. Industry has been calling for it as well. It's simply to provide for the events and entertainment industry the same as what's provided for the film industry. Now, for the film industry, the government understood and got it right. There's a whole lot of big-investment Hollywood productions coming to Australia, and if they get suddenly shut down because of social distancing, then that will cause a huge cost to them and create a risk that may prevent those productions coming to Australia in the first place. These are not businesses that need a grants program, but what the government did—we called for it, they did it, and we welcome it—was effectively provide an insurance program called a Business Interruption Fund; a fund of $50 million that effectively moves from movie to movie. To date, I'm not aware of a dollar of it actually being needed to be spent, but the fact that it's there means business can take the risk.
Think about what has happened over the last week in Victoria. The RISING festival—a new festival just starting. It gets into its first day and has its first night under the blood moon. It's going brilliantly, then it's entirely shut down. It's not just the organisers that lose money. Think right down to every individual food stall. These are food stall businesses that set up their little marquees or drive in their vans, buy all the food and all the produce in advance, and suddenly discover there will not be a single customer—not because their product wasn't good enough, not because they weren't commercially viable businesses, not because they'd organised things poorly, but simply because of a public health order that was beyond their control.
The government's answer keeps being, 'Oh, well, maybe we'll have a new grants program.' A grants program will never fix this problem. This problem can only be addressed by taking away the element of risk that is entirely beyond the control of business. These businesses have not said, 'How dare you put in a public health order that says we need to shut down.' They get it. They're good citizens. The people who buy their tickets are good citizens. But just think of the logic. The government's refusal to do for the events and entertainment industry what they have done for the film industry means live entertainment and major events are now asking a question that the film industry doesn't have to ask. They're simply asking: is it worth rolling the dice in the knowledge that there may be an event entirely beyond our control and uninsurable which, if it occurs, means we go bankrupt? That is the real-life commercial decision being made by major events organisers right now. It affects them, it affects every individual stallholder. It affects the bands and performers themselves. It affects the cleaning contractors. Whether or not they have that risk, it then affects the confidence of people buying tickets to events, because they're not quite sure if they'll get their money back if it's cancelled, all because the government won't do for Australian major events what it's willing to do for Hollywood.
We welcome, because of the jobs associated with it, what the government has done for the feature film industry with overseas productions coming here. But what sort of cultural policy says, 'We'll provide the insurance to make sure that Hollywood is willing to take a risk in Australia, but we won't provide that opportunity for any of the festival organisers or the major events organisers?' It has had less publicity than the RISING Festival, but, on the same weekend, there was supposed to be an event organised by an entrepreneur I've met—a young woman who has been running major events for baby shower expos and wedding expos. The One Fine Day expo was meant to be held on the weekend. It was cancelled without notice for the second year in a row. It's not something she can get insurance for. At first, it looked like she had lost the venue because of the centres needed for the vaccination rollout organised by the Victorian government. She then found a venue. It was all organised, and then, for the second year in a row, the whole sense of optimism was taken away at the last minute.
No-one is saying the public health orders are unacceptable. Labor is not saying that. We are simply saying: how can you expect a commercial operation to function if they in fact have a major decision that will determine whether they make money or are bankrupt that is entirely in the hands of someone else and if it's uninsurable? This can be fixed. If this is done in the same way as it was done for Hollywood feature films, you can be guaranteed these festival organisers will organise the major events and these expo organisers will organise the expos. Sometimes the events will be cancelled, but, most of the time, it won't cost the government a cent. They're not asking for grants. They're simply asking the government to step in where the insurance world, understandably, will not. This can be fixed. Because of what the government has done with the film industry, we know it can be fixed, and we simply make one appeal: show the respect for Australian entrepreneurs that has been shown to Hollywood entrepreneurs. If you do that, then we'll have a business interruption fund that applies to the live entertainment, expo and major events sector.
I want to refer to an organisation in my electorate by the name of Lighthouse Community Support. One of the most remarkable things for me over the last 12 months has been seeing how many members of the local community came together to support each other in a time of crisis. Lighthouse Community Support is one of the not-for-profit organisations that was packing food hampers for bushfire affected communities. So, at the beginning of last year, there were big empty stores and people were in there packing boxes, loading them onto trucks and driving them down to bushfire affected areas. They went straight from that to organising hampers for people impacted by the pandemic. In my electorate, we have a significant number of people who are not eligible for JobSeeker or JobKeeper, when it was there, because of their visa status. A whole lot of these people were left with, effectively, nothing to live on, and, when the government wasn't feeding these people, organisations like Lighthouse Community Support did. When the government wasn't making sure that people had something to sustain them, the community just stepped in and did it. They showed the best of Australia.
It wasn't only Lighthouse Community Support doing that, but they're the group that I want to pay tribute to today, for the very simple reason that they were recently recognised by the Canterbury-Bankstown council in the annual awards, taking out Community Organisation of the Year. Their work relies on the experience and expertise of their team working in my community in different sectors over the years. Together, Lighthouse run youth mentoring programs and youth leadership programs throughout the area and beyond. They also provide much-needed support for families and students in need and for people who are survivors of domestic violence. I know especially that Lighthouse do this work often without praise. They don't seek praise either. I didn't tell them I was going to make this speech, because they would have asked me not to. They are modest, good people. That's exactly why they were given Community Organisation of the Year. It reminds us that, when we uplift others in our community, we all benefit. I want to thank Lighthouse Community Support for always uplifting others and for making our community a better place.
I want to acknowledge the medical centres and doctors in my part of Sydney for the extraordinary work that they have done during COVID. There are a whole lot of volunteers and other people who have gone to the nth degree. Medical centres have been in a very special role. We had at one point a significant outbreak in Lakemba, and at that moment we put the appeal out for people to put messages on social media in every community language, and it just happened. You started going through the different Facebook pages, and different people were there putting out messages in different community languages, telling people what they had to do for social distancing and telling people what they had to do for testing. Back then it was not as contagious a strain as what we're dealing with now the delta strain of the virus, but certainly the community got on top of it, and what could have been a horrific outbreak was brought back under control.
In acknowledging all of the medical centres, I want to tell the story of one. Disclaimer: it happens to be my own doctor, someone who is known to many people around Parliament House, Dr Jamal Rifi. He asked me to come in to make sure I got my first dose of AstraZeneca from the start, because he wanted to make sure it was promoted to help build community confidence and to make sure that some of the people who have heard the different conspiracy theories were encouraged to take the vaccination. Since March of last year Dr Rifi has transformed not only his clinic but his home. His home is next door to the clinic. He effectively gave up his front yard and put up a marquee. That marquee was originally a testing clinic. Now there is another marquee to the side. There's one as a waiting area for the vaccine. Another is where you sit after you've had the vaccine. Then there's a drive-through section where people are still being tested.
To my knowledge, if he's taken a day off, I don't know when it was, and I was very pleased only a couple of weeks ago to congratulate everybody who works there, from the receptionist to the nurses to the doctors to the administrators. Everybody there has done the most extraordinary work. They always help the patients with their health, but what they have done is keep the entire community safe. It is selfless work. It deserves to be acknowledged in every way. It's the one situation that has been so common over the last 12 months: where the work of our doctors, our medical practitioners and everyone who works with them hasn't been only to protect their patients but has been to protect the whole of Australia.
In July 2017 the Liberal government offered a company called Canstruct International Pty Ltd a contract for welfare and garrison services on Nauru without a competitive tender. At the time, the contract was worth over $300 million. Since then, the contract has been extended five times, each time without a competitive tender, and its value has ballooned to $1.4 billion.
So why did Canstruct get this contract? Prior to Canstruct being handed this massive contract, the company had no experience of delivering welfare and garrison services to vulnerable people. Prior to Canstruct being handed this massive contract, the Department of Home Affairs had concluded that the company did not have, 'sufficient technical understanding to provide the required services.' Prior to Canstruct being handed this massive contract, at least two other, more qualified companies had told the government that they were interested in delivering the services. Prior to Canstruct being handed this massive contract, the Nauruan government told the Australian government that its decision to pursue a sole tender arrangement with the company—and again I quote from the Nauruan government's letter—'deeply offended us and, in our view, has damaged the sense of partnership and collaboration between Nauru and Australia.' So I ask again: why was Canstruct handed this megacontract on a platter without a competitive tender? And why has the contract been extended five times, also without a single competitive tender?
What do we know about Canstruct? We know that Canstruct International is part of the Canstruct Group, a group of Brisbane based companies owned by the Murphy family—three brothers and their father. Thanks to a report in the Nine papers on Monday last week, we know that, since October 2017, executives and associates of Canstruct have made 11 donations to the Liberal and National parties. These donations were made in seven different names and none were disclosed under federal electoral laws. We have to thank legislation passed by the Queensland Labor state parliament for the disclosure of these donations.
It is a matter of public record that Rory Murphy, the CEO of Canstruct, attended Liberal-National party fundraisers with the former Minister for Home Affairs, the member for Dickson, Mr Dutton, who was the minister responsible for the department that awarded these contracts. Rory Murphy attended these fundraisers with the member for Dickson in November 2018, April 2019 and October 2019. Those fundraisers took place either shortly before or shortly after the government extended its contract with Canstruct. The member for Dickson was at all relevant times the minister in charge of the department that awarded Canstruct the Nauru contract, and at all relevant times the member for Dickson was in charge of the department responsible for extending the contract with Canstruct. So, in short, we do not know much about Canstruct, but we do know that it is a major donor to the Liberal and National parties and we know the CEO of the company is very well known to the member for Dickson personally.
Thanks to two Auditor-General's reports, we also know that: (1) in the year before Canstruct was handed the contract for the provision of welfare and garrison services on Nauru, the Department of Home Affairs had determined that the company did not have 'sufficient technical understanding to provide the required services' and did not offer 'value for money'; (2) at least two other companies expressed an interest in delivering the services on Nauru, including one company, Serco, which according to the department did offer value for money and did have the relevant technical expertise to provide the services; (3) Canstruct had no previous experience in delivering welfare or garrison services to vulnerable people; (4) the decision to award Canstruct the contract without a competitive tender deeply offended the government of Nauru and, according to a senior Nauruan official, 'damaged the sense of partnership and collaboration between Nauru and Australia'; and (5) at the time Canstruct International was awarded the contract it had no assets and generated no revenue and it appears that the government did not require any director or related entity of Canstruct International to guarantee the company's performance under the contract. So Canstruct has breached its contract and caused massive loss to the Commonwealth. It's unclear whether the government could have recovered anything from Canstruct on behalf of Australians. So there is a very long list of reasons why Canstruct should not have been awarded this contract without a competitive tender, and nobody—not the department, not the current Minister for Home Affairs and certainly not the former Minister for Home Affairs—has offered a single cogent reason why the company should have been handed this contract, let alone without a competitive tender. Let's just recall that this is a contract that to date has been worth $1.4 billion of taxpayers' money.
That takes us back to the 11 donations. What role did those 11 donations play in the government's decision to award Canstruct the contract without a competitive tender, and what role did those 11 donations play in the government's five subsequent decisions to extend the contract with Canstruct, in each case without a competitive tender? But it's not just the Liberal government's decision to hand Canstruct this $1.4 billion without a competitive tender that raises questions and warrants scrutiny. Since October 2017, the value of the contract has continued to increase significantly, despite the dramatic and completely predictable decline in the number of asylum seekers on Nauru—from 1,094 to fewer than 150—and despite the government of Nauru taking over the provision of welfare services in mid-2019. Those service that have been taken over by the government of Nauru altogether are some of the services that Canstruct were previously providing.
In December 2017, Canstruct was paid approximately $27.3 million of public money to provide welfare and garrison services to 1,084 people. That's approximately $25,000 per person In January 2021, the Morrison government paid Canstruct over $40 million to provide fewer services to only 145 people. That's over $320,000 per person for the month. I'll repeat that; that's over $320,000 per person for that month, January 2021. That's in addition to the $6 million the Morrison government paid to the government of Nauru in January 2021 to provide the welfare services that Canstruct used to provide under its $1.4 billion contract. In other words, in December 2017 the government spent $27.3 million for the provision of welfare and garrison services to 1,084 people on Nauru; some three years later, in January 2021, the Morrison government spent over $46 million for the provision of fewer services to only 145 people. This is the same government that likes to claim it's good at managing money.
This is obscene. It's an obscenity with only one beneficiary: a company owned by a family of Liberal-National Party donors. According to the company's own financial reports, Canstruct International made almost $52 million in profit from the Nauru contract in 2017-18. In 2018-19 it made a $91.5 million profit. In 2019-20, its profit was $130 million. In other words, a huge proportion of the public money that the Morrison government is paying to Canstruct is going straight into the pockets of this family of Liberal-National Party donors. The Murphy family is laughing all the way to the bank, splashing out on expensive racehorses trained by Gai Waterhouse and $17 million houses in the suburbs of Brisbane, and the Morrison government thinks all this is fine.
In fact, when my colleague Senator Keneally asked questions about this at Senate estimates, Senator Stoker accused Labor of engaging in the politics of envy. Imagine that! A Liberal government hands $1.4 billion in a contract without a competitive tender to a major Liberal-National Party donor who has not relevant experience and no assets, and when Labor asks questions about it the Morrison government accuses Labor of engaging in the politics of envy. This looks like yet another example of the Liberal Party using public money like it's Liberal Party money and helping out their mates. It's no wonder the Morrison government has no interest in establishing a proper national anticorruption commission, and, of course, the Murphy family are not the only Liberal mates doing well out of this government.
I don't think I have time to do through the litany of examples, but I just want to say a few words about the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. At a time when many Australians are doing it tough, the Liberal government has handed at least 79 jobs on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to Liberal mates. That's at least 79 former Liberal Party staffers, failed Liberal Party candidates and Liberal Party donors and members who've been given secure and very highly remunerated jobs on the tribunal, and, for many of them, their only qualification seems to be a Liberal Party membership card.
Members of the tribunal are paid between $193,990 and $496,560 a year. It's basically impossible for them to lose their jobs, even if they never turn up for work. Based on recent data provided by the tribunal, we know that some full-time members—people who are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year—have been doing no work. We know that many other full-time members have been doing very little work, finalising fewer than 25 applications a year. We also know that, as a result of the very generous and potentially unlawful remuneration policies adopted by the tribunal, many part-time members of the tribunal are being paid tens of thousands of dollars more than full-time equivalents. I've asked the Auditor-General to look into that particular issue, and I look forward to his response.
Let me be clear: membership of a political party is not a disqualification for appointment to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but the Morrison government has been treating membership of the Liberal Party as the only qualification for appointment. How else can one explain the appointment of a man like Anthony Barry, a former Liberal Party media adviser turned big tobacco lobbyist who reportedly boasted about dropping out of law school and who continued to work as a lobbyist long after he was appointed to the tribunal. It has become so bad that former High Court judge Ian Callinan, who was hand-picked by the former Attorney-General to conduct a review of the tribunal, felt the need to recommend that all future appointments be made on the basis of merit. Of course, the Morrison government has not implemented that recommendation.
It saddens me greatly to see the once-great Administrative Appeals Tribunal diminished in this way. Thousands of Australians rely on the tribunal to conduct an independent review of decisions by Commonwealth ministers and public servants—decisions that can have major and sometimes life-altering impacts on people's lives. This government doesn't care about those Australians. To the Morrison government, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is there to serve the interests of the Liberal Party and its mates, not the interests of Australians. This government is so shameless and so lacking in integrity that it has even appointed Liberal aligned lobbyists to the tribunal. In other words, under the Morrison government's watch, Liberal aligned lobbyists, whose job it is to influence government decision-making, have been paid to conduct supposedly independent reviews of government decisions. There could hardly be a more flagrant conflict of interest, and yet, as with every other outrage, the Morrison government waves its hand, says 'whatever' and moves on to the next scandal.
What we're witnessing right now is a government that believes that it can act with complete impunity. The Prime Minister appears to believe that, no matter how disgraceful his conduct or the conduct of his ministers gets, time will march on, journalists will move on and people will forget. It's incumbent on all of us to ensure that the Prime Minister is wrong about that. Australia needs a powerful and independent national anticorruption commission, and only a Labor government will deliver one.
I'd like to raise a few issues during this debate on the appropriation bills. Firstly, I would sadly like to greatly criticise the decision of our Paralympic movement to discriminate against the Paralympic athletes. We have one rule for able-bodied athletes going to the Games in Tokyo and we have another rule for Paralympians. If you are going to the Olympics in Tokyo, your decision to take a COVID vaccine is up to you. It is freely available, but it is not mandatory. There is no requirement from the Japanese government. There is no requirement from the Olympic movement. There is no requirement from the Australian Olympic movement. Therefore, athletes, who rely on their body for their income and their livelihoods, are able to make a decision freely and in consultation with their own doctor. They are not coerced; they are not forced.
In contrast, our Paralympians have been told that, unless they take the new, novel, experimental genetic COVID vaccine, they will be unable to attend the Tokyo Paralympic Games. This is nothing other than shocking discrimination. I call on the Paralympic Committee: if you think that your Paralympians are somehow special and need special care and special treatment, and need to be looked after in this way, perhaps you are not the right people to be looking after and to be involved with our Paralympians.
I've had the great pleasure of seeing our Paralympians at their basketball games and their touch football games. These athletes are as tough and as hard as any other athlete playing any other sport. You see them tumble over in their chairs—not on soft grass, but on hard wooden floors—and pick themselves up and go again. The fact that they are being discriminated against is a shame upon our nation and it's a shame on the organisers of the Paralympic movement. I call on them to please rethink this. We should not be using coercion to force someone to have a vaccine against their free wishes and to take away that freedom. They may have trained for 10 years for their one moment to go to the Olympics and to have that taken away is shocking and a disgrace. The Paralympic movement needs to find the science and the evidence and to end the shocking discrimination.
The second issue: I would like to revisit the debate on hydroxychloroquine. We may remember on 28 August last year Australia's then Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth made some comments. He said:
… I think Australians are very clear which Kelly should be listened to in COVID-19, and that is Paul Kelly—
And obviously not Craig Kelly. He continued:
And Paul Kelly, like myself, like all clinicians around Australia, understand that regrettably hydroxychloroquine is not effective for COVID-19.
Well, let's look at some of the recent evidence to test this proposition of Mr Coatsworth that it is not effective.
We have also had the Chief Medical Officer, on 13 January, saying:
… subsequently there have been many, many studies on hydroxychloroquine for both treatment and for prevention of COVID-19. And at this point there is no evidence that it is useful for either of those things.
Let's look at evidence. Let's look at what is actually happening. Last week, Dr Peter McCullough, MD, MHP, FACP, FACC, FAHA, FCRSA, FCCP, FNFK, FNLA—a gentleman that has more letters after his name than the alphabet! He is professor of medicine. He is someone who has had COVID himself and someone whose father has had COVID. He was asked the question during interview: 'In your practice did you find hydroxychloroquine to be effective?' Remember, we've got Mr Coatsworth saying, 'Like myself, all clinicians around Australia, understand that regrettably it is not effective.' So how did Dr McCullough answer this question when he was asked if, in his practice, treating real-life patients, it was effective? His answer was, 'Oh certainly. Hydroxychloroquine is the most frequently prescribed drug for this condition worldwide. It is the most studied drug. There have been over 200 clinical studies and the data is consistent.' He continued: 'It is enormously helpful and as part of a multi-drug regime. There are published studies that show it is a prophylaxis and it's about as prophylaxis as the vaccine. It can prevent about 90 per cent of cases. It is relied upon worldwide but unfortunately it has been politicised.' This is a complete contradiction to what our Chief Medical Officer and former Deputy Chief Medical Officer have said.
It is not just Dr McCullough. On 5 February Australia's Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy, most likely a high credential immunologist in this country, said, Craig Kelly is 'absolutely right' in saying that hydroxychloroquine is useful in early treatment studies. Yet we have our Chief Medical Officer saying it is ineffective.
What are we up to with some of the studies? We know that for hydroxychloroquine we have 29 early treatment studies. Remember, we have our Chief Medical Officer saying at this point there is no evidence. Well, why are they not looking at these 29 studies? And 100 per cent of those studies have found hydroxychloroquine effective. A random effects meta-analysis with the pooled results of these 29 studies has shown that there is a 66 per cent improvement. The probability of getting 29 out of 29 early treatment studies to show an effective result if it were an ineffective treatment is one in 537 million. Maybe all these people are wrong. Maybe our Chief Medical Officer has got the one in 537 million chance that he is right.
What about some of the other evidence, some of the studies referred to? Interestingly, a study published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Medicine proposes an algorithm to treat COVID. In that algorithm, it includes treatment with hydroxychloroquine. So in this country we have Chief Medical Officer that says it doesn't work. In Queensland we have a Chief Medical Officer that is so convinced that had it doesn't work that she's criminalised it. In Queensland a doctor will go to jail for six months for applying a treatment that is published in a peer-reviewed journal—not just any peer-reviewed journal but the American Journal of Medicine. This treatment protocol, applied in the state of Queensland, would see a doctor jailed for six months.
I could go on with all these studies all night, but there are another two that I'd quickly like to point to. First, they say these studies don't have big enough numbers of people in them. Again, this is a peer-reviewed study published in International Immunopharmacology. It looked at a study from Iran, a retrospective study, of 28,759 adult patients with mild COVID symptoms. In that study, no less than 7,295 were treated with hydroxychloroquine. This peer-reviewed study with 11 authors—what was its conclusion? Remember those numbers. They treated 7,295 patients with a treatment that in Queensland would end up with a doctor in jail. That study found it lowered the risk of hospitalisation by 35.3 per cent and lowered the risk of death by 69.7 per cent. A treatment that's found in a peer-reviewed study of over 7,000 people lowers the risk of death by almost 70 per cent. The same treatment will put you in jail as a doctor in Queensland. This is an outrage. This is an embarrassment to our nation, an embarrassment to our country.
Deputy Speaker, if you add up all the studies on hydroxychloroquine, there are 246 to date and 185 have found positive results. The probability of an equal or greater percentage of that occurring is—wait for it—one in two quadrillion. Those are the odds it is an ineffective treatment. Yet today if a doctor in Australia banned from using it uses it in Queensland to try and save a life, he'll face six months in jail. This is an outrage. This is a disgrace. It's an affront to all the principles of medicine. It's an affront to our doctors, who we should trust with the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.
When our Chief Medical Officer was saying this drug wasn't effective, Professor Raymond Seet, from the University of Singapore, was conducting a randomised controlled trial, in Singapore, with hydroxychloroquine. What did that find? On 18 May, exactly when our health bureaucrats were saying, 'No, no, it doesn't work,' in Singapore they were treating over 3,000 low-risk patients with it, as a prophylaxis. What did they find, Mr Deputy Speaker? They found the risk of a severe disease was 35 per cent lower and the risk of contracting COVID was 32 per cent lower. The numbers of those studies were only low, they could have done better, but how can you have 32 per cent and 35 per cent improvement in a study in Singapore? I've heard other people say: 'These studies are in Asian countries. We should discount them.' Does anyone think that the medical authorities in Singapore are not qualified to carry out these tests? There you have it, Mr Deputy Speaker: 35 per cent lower risk of severe cases, and 32 per cent lower risk of getting infected.
In the remaining minute, I'd also like to comment on the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne. The member for Melbourne and I don't agree on a lot. In fact, I would say that on maybe 99.9 per cent of the subjects that come along the member for Melbourne and I disagree entirely—even down to the art in this Parliament House! But on this occasion the member for Melbourne is right about the publicly funded JobKeeper wage subsidy. Companies that have made a windfall profit, that have got JobKeeper but haven't needed it or used it, should pay it back. And many companies have. I notice Nick Scali, the furniture retailer, have paid it back—and good on them! Many companies that have benefited have had their best period of sales and profitability ever because of changes in consumer spending habits during the COVID lockdown. Some of those companies that got JobKeeper have, correctly, paid it back. The other companies should. If the boot were on the other foot—if a Labor government had given JobKeeper to the unions for the unions to pay out, and the unions had pocketed that money for themselves and not given it to the workers—we would be coming down on them like a tonne of bricks. It should not matter; it is the principle. These companies should pay this money back, and that is why I support the amendment by the member for Melbourne. (Time expired)
I'm pleased to speak tonight in reply to the budget. After budget night, I put together a detailed online survey to hear how this year's budget will affect the day-to-day lives of the people and communities of Indi, and in just under a week I had received a whopping 1,402 responses to that survey. The constituents who spoke up are diverse, from school leavers in Mansfield to aged-care workers in Bright and retired veterans in Wodonga. One-third of respondents came from our bigger towns of Wodonga, Wangaratta and Benalla, and two-thirds came from the smaller towns and districts right across the electorate. I'll be using this speech tonight to bring their voices to parliament, because, at the end of the day, that's what I'm here to do.
I'm also proud to be using this speech to launch the publication of the Indi budget survey report 2021, which sets out the views of all those who responded. The top-line finding from the survey is pretty simple: big budget announcements mean nothing to the people of Indi until there is real change on the ground. Billions in mental health funding means nothing unless you can access mental health services close to your home in a timely fashion at a price that you can afford to pay. Big infrastructure announcements are useless if they're just announcements made over and over again for political points and sod is never turned. Income tax cuts mean diddly squat if fewer than one in 20 people in the community earn enough to benefit from them.
As an Independent, I've got the privilege of calling things as I see them. I'm not a robotic cheerleader for the government; nor am I relentless critic. I'll be using the voices of the community collected in this survey when I'm deciding how to vote on bills and, when meeting with relevant ministers and the Prime Minister, I'll be sharing what they had to say.
Firstly, on renewables and climate action, across the board the communities of Indi were disappointed in the lack of action on climate in this budget. Many listed it as their top concern, and over 80 per cent said the government should be doing much more to scale up renewables instead of propping up gas. As one constituent from Yea put it: 'The time for obfuscating and procrastinating on climate change has passed. We want concrete commitments to climate change now.'
Two hundred and seventy billion dollars was announced for the defence industry in this budget and $110 billion was announced for infrastructure, while only $1.6 billion was announced for emissions reduction. The numbers tell you plain and simple that the government simply—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 18:16 to 18:28
Regional Australia doesn't want to see a doubling down on dead-end gas projects and soon-to-be-stranded assets. It knows the longer the government stalls the more we'll see foreign renewable companies setting up wind and solar farms in our back yards and pumping the profits off shore. Regional Australia knows the real economic opportunity is in locally owned renewables. Later this month, the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy will inquire into my Australian Local Power Agency Bill, which will do just that: put the regions, like Indi, front and centre in what is an inevitable renewables boom. That bill is still on the table. It's fully costed, and it could have been lifted into this budget. I invite the government to listen carefully to the evidence community energy groups will give at that inquiry.
The government also made considerable strides in delivering on the royal commission into aged care. But, while $17.7 billion over five years is commendable, it still falls way too short. The aged-care sector called for $10 billion each year to fully implement the royal commission recommendations, but this announcement really comes nowhere near that. The community of Indi knows what it's like to deal with a broken aged-care system. Almost half of the survey respondents were seriously concerned about the lack of skilled aged-care workers in the region. Constituents also listed unacceptable waiting times and staff-to-resident ratios as urgent issues of concern. One aged-care worker from Bright put it bluntly: 'The new requirement of 200 minutes of care per day will simply just not happen where I work as we are so chronically short of staff.' I've heard these implementation concerns right across the board. The people of Indi simply don't have faith that the government can deliver beyond these announcements. When asked to rate how confident they were that the government could fix the horrific failures uncovered by the royal commission, the average level of confidence was a measly three out of 10.
The one-off payment of $1,145 payment per resident to aged-care providers in regional areas really is a drop in the ocean. The additional $630 million bucket for regional aged care also has no detail on how it will be spent on the ground and if the government will fill the gaps in thin markets, like the royal commission recommended. The more than $1 billion invested in the JobTrainer program doesn't specify how the government will make sure that newly qualified aged-care workers stay in or, indeed, move to the regions. While the extra 80,000 home-care packages are great, we've still got 20,000 people on the waiting list. How many of these will be in regional Australia? Who will the government prioritise? These are questions that I can't answer for my constituents, and I certainly won't get answers in the government glossies.
Residential aged-care facilities across Indi—in Bright, Alexandra and Eildon—are vulnerable. Years of underfunding means facilities are often rundown and there simply aren't enough beds to go around. Some families have to make the heartbreaking decision to send their elderly loved ones to an aged-care facility hours away. This is a decision that no family should have to make. The process of fixing our fractured aged-care system has only just begun and we shouldn't congratulate this government for just coming to the table. I'll have my congratulations ready when implementation actually hits the ground.
Indi communities also welcomed the $2 billion in mental health funding. It was an announcement, though, that they greeted with cautious concern. There were no specific measures in this historic funding package that target regional Australia. Recent bushfires and border closures mean regional communities like Indi have particular mental health needs. Almost three-quarters of survey respondents who've tried to access mental health services in the last year have experienced significant barriers, from waiting times to exorbitant fees or simply no services available in their towns or down the road—and that's just not good enough. I'll be watching closely to see how the government rolls out its 24 new satellite Head to Health centres and if there is equity for regional electorates in need like my electorate. The last thing we need is pork barrelling on mental health. I'll also be making sure the government isn't just giving lip service to job creation like it did with its job maker hiring credit last budget. This mental health package will mean nothing if we can't get skilled workers into the communities that need them, especially in areas such as mental health and especially when we have such a widespread housing crisis. I've already taken some creative solutions to the health minister. For example, there are huge opportunities to mobilise mental health nurse practitioners but fundamental structural barriers to making that happen.
We simply can't afford to get mental health and aged care wrong, especially for communities like Benalla, which has the highest per capita level of suicide over the past decade in the state and one of the highest per capita levels of suicide attempts presenting to emergency departments. The people of Benalla are incredible. They are working so hard with community led programs to address this. This mental health funding needs to help communities like theirs or communities in the Upper Murray, who I have had to fight tooth and nail for to see bushfire mental health funding announcements made over a year ago finally delivered. I will continue to fight until we see affordable, local, quality mental health services on the ground in every country town.
We have to act fast. I've spent my professional life working as a nurse, a midwife and a rural health researcher in north-east Victoria, and I know that the demand for health services will double over the next 20 years as the population ages and our chronic disease morbidity climbs.
There was a lot of infrastructure funding in this budget, but there was nothing allocated for a badly needed investment in the Albury-Wodonga hospital. This is the busiest regional health service outside of Geelong. Surely it will be identified soon as a key priority in the regional deal. I absolutely hope so.
One announcement that I know was welcomed across the electorate is the $600 million to establish a permanent National Recovery and Resilience Agency. Bushfire affected communities in Towong Shire and Alpine Shire have had great success working with the outgoing National Bushfire Recovery Agency, and I commend all of the good people who were working in that agency. The tale of recovery is long, as we know down in Indi. The 2009 fires are still in the minds of communities in the Murrindindi Shire, who experienced horrific fires at that time, and they tell me constantly that recovery takes a long time.
I was pleased last night to welcome over $5.3 million in funding to 12 community projects across the Alpine and Towong shires in the latest round of the Local Economic Recovery Program funding. That funding is more than double the last round. It brings the total amount of bushfire recovery funding to Indi over the past 12 months to $79.6 million. I was particularly pleased to see funding for community halls. During and after the fires, I visited dozens of halls that became makeshift emergency relief centres and operational hubs in the most desperate of circumstances. The funding for the Tawonga, Corryong, Tallangatta and Harrietville halls will help these important places to become fit for purpose the next time an emergency comes around. It also recognises that our small halls are places for communities to come together to reconnect and rebuild after 18 months of drought, COVID, bushfires and border closures.
The $1.5 million for the mountain bike park in the Mitta state forest is a game changer for the tourism economy of the Mitta Valley, and it will attract bike-riding, including mountain-bike-riding, enthusiasts from around the nations. I welcome them to Mitta, and I know they'll be very welcome at the Mitta Valley park.
Survey respondents have strong views about the two different income tax cuts in this budget. The low- and middle-income tax offset will mean workers earning under $126,000 will get $1,080 in tax relief at tax time. This will benefit more than 80 per cent of workers in Indi, and that's welcome news at a time when low wage growth is hurting hip pockets. I'll be pleased to support that bill this week. The scheduled stage 3 tax cuts, on the other hand, will only go to workers earning $180,000 per year, and less than two per cent of people in Indi will benefit from these cuts. Some of them don't even want it. The policy gives no thought to the people of Indi and means less money to spend on things that matter to us.
The survey theme I'd like to close on is the total lack of funding for a federal integrity commission. I was disappointed—but in no way surprised, I have to say—to see zero dollars and zero staff allocated to the government's toothless integrity commission proposal in the budget papers. The Prime Minister is kicking the integrity can down the road at a time when record billions are going out the door in the lead-up to an election. This is simply unacceptable. Every age group in the survey listed integrity in politics and government as a top priority, and every age group had near zero confidence that the government could pass a bill to set up a robust integrity commission that's equipped with the powers to actually do its job. As one constituent from Wangaratta put it, 'The integrity commission has well and truly been swept under the carpet, never to be spoken of again,' and she's right. On 8 September, it will be 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised to deliver an integrity commission to this nation. It's an election commitment that it is becoming increasingly clear he will default on. But I'll tell you this: I will never default on my promise to the people of Indi to keep fighting for a robust integrity commission. Now more than ever, we've got to make sure that we're smart and effective about how we spend our money, and, most importantly, we need to be honest too.
I rise to speak on the appropriation bills and on the budget for 2021-22, which is about securing Australia's recovery. I'd like to focus on creating jobs and rebuilding our economy and also on infrastructure within my electorate of Swan in Western Australia. The budget, in regard to creating jobs and rebuilding the recovery, has quite a few facets to it. There are jobs in the recovery. There are tax jobs to create jobs. There are business tax incentives to create even more jobs. There are global business and talent incentives, tax incentives to encourage innovation, building skills for the future, investing in our care workforce, COVID-19's impact on women, boosting workforce participation, getting unemployed Australians back into work, creating the right incentives to work, the digital economy strategy, digital skills for the future, deregulation, supporting construction jobs, growing our regions and targeting industry support.
In regard to jobs and recovery, Australia's economic recovery means more people are in work than ever before. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie, the employment figure is 75,000 higher than it was before COVID-19 and almost one million jobs have been restored or created since May 2020. So Australia is on track for the unemployment rate to recover in around two years. That's five times faster than it did in the 1990s recession. As you would know, tax cuts are designed to create jobs and also to put more money in the pockets of those who earn it. The tax cuts will support household income and generate more activity supporting jobs growth. The government is delivering a further $7.8 billion in personal income tax to support more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners. This will be worth up to $1,080 for individuals or up to $2,160 for couples. This is on top of the $25.1 billion of announced tax cuts flowing to households in 2021-22 under our legislated Personal Income Tax Plan. With the additional year of the low- and middle-income tax offset, our PIT plan will provide tax cuts of up to $7,020 for individuals and up to $14,040 for couples, in total, over the period from 2018-19 to 2021-22. Lower taxes mean that hardworking Australians will keep more of what they earn, allowing them to spend more, help grow the economy and create more jobs.
I'm in my 14th year of serving the good electorate of Swan. I see the member for Hindmarsh here. He joined me in parliament after the 2007 election. It has been a long journey and I know he has seen plenty of action, as have I in the time that I've been in parliament. It has been a privilege to serve Swan. During the term of my elections I have fought and advocated for congestion-busting infrastructure across Swan. My electorate of Swan is home to some of the largest highways and infrastructure in WA, so a major focus for me has been making our roads safer and getting people home sooner.
Congestion has a real cost both on the economy and on the quality of our lives. I'm proud to be part of a government that has committed a total of over $1.66 billion towards infrastructure projects across the electorate of Swan. A major accomplishment has been the delivery of the Manning Road on-ramp, and I was reminded of that by a constituent who happened to be sitting next to me on the plane yesterday. He was lauding the outcomes of the Manning Road on-ramp, which is the first project on a piece of key infrastructure on the freeways of Perth in over 40 years. After a decade of advocating and fighting for this project, I'm proud that we finally delivered it. I originally raised this issue in parliament in 2009 and began my campaign for funding, securing $28 million in 2016. The funding was 80 per cent of the $35 million project. This project is an example of the commitment this federal Liberal government has to creating congestion-busting road infrastructure works. It displays the commitment that I have to local residents in Swan to take action and deliver what the community needs.
The recent budget prioritises several key infrastructure projects in the state. Residents in my electorate of Swan will directly benefit from a $385.5 million share in the $1.3 billion infrastructure announcement recently made with the state minister for infrastructure and also the state Premier. A project included in this announcement is the Hamilton Street-Wharf Street grade separations and the elevation of associated railway stations, including Queens Park and Cannington stations. This is a major win for the residents in my electorate. Over the years, I have been campaigning for the removal of dangerous level crossings on the Armadale line. The crossings cause not only a large number of car crashes but also a huge amount of congestion. There are times when it is like a car park. Back in 2019, I secured $207.5 million for the Mint Street-Oats Street-Welshpool Road level crossing removal as well. This further commitment of funds to remove two more level crossings means I've succeeded in my local campaign, which has taken many years. Over 1,000 people signed local petitions to expedite action to remove these local crossings, and I look forward to seeing the works commence soon.
Other key projects in Swan as part of this infrastructure announcement include $10 million for the Orrong Road expressway, and I can hear a sigh of relief from constituents about that because it is like a car park in the morning and in the afternoon as well. There is also an additional $21.5 million towards the Leach Highway-Welshpool Road interchange project, bringing the total funding for this project to $68 million, thanks to the Morrison government. This highway is the busiest intersection in Western Australia, and it's great that these two projects are going to be looked at, as they will get people home more quickly and more safely. I drove past there on Sunday. The works have begun, and I look forward to the sod-turning with the local minister for infrastructure. I expect the Labor Premier will be out there as well to make sure he gets a piece of the action. This funding for my electorate will support local small businesses, which means jobs, and it will keep residents safe on the roads and cut travel times in our community.
Other key road infrastructure projects I've delivered include $232 million for the Tonkin Highway gap, which is one of Perth's most congested roads; $85 million to upgrade the northern access to the Perth Airport precinct; $37.6 million in federal funding for WA's first smart freeway; $1.6 billion for the Roe Highway and Kalamunda Road interchange; and $490 million for the Forrestfield-airport link, which is near completion. I recently visited both ends of the link, which is the first ever underground tunnel project under the Swan River, so it's a great initiative. It was started by the previous Liberal state government, but the current state Labor government has supported it and continued with the project, with the $490 million we gave for that. There is also $13.25 million to bust congestion on Abernethy Road; $75 million to upgrade the bus interchange at the Canning Bridge; and $25 million for the Causeway Bridge upgrade, just to name a few. I'll continue to deliver congestion-busting infrastructure for the residents of Swan.
As we come out of COVID, investment in infrastructure will play a critical role in the Commonwealth's JobMaker plan and help the Western Australian economy. Another project, Edward Millen House, secured funding of $4 million. I'm pleased to deliver that funding because the Edward Millen redevelopment project is also in my electorate of Swan. I worked closely with the town of Victoria Park to put this project on the agenda at the national level to ensure that the benefits of economic and social regeneration can occur right in the heart of East Victoria Park. Edward Millen House has been fenced off to the public for more than two decades, and I'm excited to see this historic state heritage asset restored and enjoyed by the local community. The $4 million I secured will help the town of Victoria Park kick off this project. Other community infrastructure projects I've delivered include $2.5 million for the upgrade of Mends Street in South Perth and $1 million for the creation of the Wharf Street Basin Next Generation Community Park, which is a smart park right in the middle of the city of Canning.
As some members know, my electorate of Swan is named after the Swan River which borders the north and west of my electorate. The Swan River is renowned around the world and is a main tourist attraction. It's where hundreds of thousands of West Aussies gather to view the Australia Day Skyworks. It is also home to many local organisations in my electorate, including rowing clubs, sea scouts and yacht clubs. It provides a place for the community to get together and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. It is home to many local species, including the famous black swan which features on our Western Australian flag. It is essential that we care for these waterways, and looking after the river has been a commitment of mine during my time as the member.
I am proud to have been able to deliver three stages of the Swan-Canning River Recovery program, supporting local organisations to deliver practical community environmental action in looking after and caring for the Swan and Canning rivers. I'm sure the member for Hindmarsh, with his previous ministerial role, would appreciate how much work we have to do to look after our environment. Stage 3 of the project has seen funding of $2 million to improve the health of the Middle Canning estuary and will see the removal of terrestrial weeds across 50 hectares. The aquatic hydrocotyle was introduced as weed for fish ponds, and it escaped and went into the rivers. The program is to get rid of that weed and also to reduce sediment and nutrient run-off from this vital Western Australian waterway. Over the next three years, environmental and community groups will engage volunteers in a series of projects funded by the Australian government under the Swan-Canning River Recovery stage 3 project. As well as delivering practical environmental outcomes, these programs are helping to educate people about the importance of the Middle Canning waterway's natural values and the ways we can work together to enhance our environment.
On my election, I set out to make the electorate of Swan a hub for sport with the best recreational facilities in Perth. As both a former director of junior development for the Perth Football Club, which is based at Lathlain site, and a former player in the WAFL, I know the benefits sport can bring to the area. The investment is focused on local participation, upgrading local facilities at reserves and within local sporting programs, and delivering the multimillion-dollar Recreation and Aquatic Facility in the City of South Perth.
The Morrison government is committed to providing modern, equitable and long-lasting facilities for grassroots sporting clubs up to the elite level. That's why we have committed $16.25 million towards the construction of the WA State Football Centre. We know that football, or soccer, is one of the most popular sports in WA, with more than 230,000 Western Australians playing the global game. This project has been a key goal of the West Australian football community for the better part of the last decade. With our support, Football West will finally have a state-of-the-art home in Maniana Reserve in Queens Park in my electorate. This is critical because the recent successes of Perth Glory in the A-League and W-League mean more and more young people in the west are signing up to local clubs.
A big focus of my local priorities has also been to upgrade and enhance local sporting grounds. I've secured nearly $400,000 to upgrade the sports lighting facilities at Wyong Reserve and Scott Reserve. Multiple amateur and junior sporting clubs call these reserves home, with a new focus on enticing girls to play at these sporting clubs as well. Proper lighting is important for the clubs to play or practice in low light or at night and increase community participation. Because of this lighting, they are actually now able to bring the girls in to play on a Friday night at their home ground.
Another project I delivered after surveying local residents and working closely with local clubs and coaches was to upgrade the facilities at the Aqualife Centre in East Victoria Park. These upgrades included installation of new starting platforms and installing a submersible wall. These upgrades enable better use by many school groups that have used the centre, as well as ensuring disabled athletes have proper facilities. The upgrades were completed last year, and I'm glad they are still being enjoyed by the community.
The coalition has been a strong supporter of the Lathlain development, delivering the vital investment that has enabled the development to get underway, including $10 million in 2015 for the West Coast Eagles' new home at Lathlain oval and the $3 million investment in 2016 to support the co-location of the Wirrpanda Foundation to assist Indigenous youth. $4 million was also invested in the redevelopment of the Perth Football Club grandstand at Lathlain oval, which helped to benefit 10,000 children directly involved in football related activities.
The latest multimillion-dollar project underway is the new Recreation and Aquatic Facility that will be completed in the City of South Perth. I've led the local campaign for this $20 million project since 2011, and it has actually now turned into a $65 million project, with $20 million from the federal government. The business plans have recently been passed by the South Perth local council and it has the backing of thousands of residents who were surveyed. Local sporting groups are also supporting this facility. The design concepts include three state-of-the-art swimming facilities, six to eight indoor hard court stadiums, and facilities for women and disabled sports, hydrotherapy and spa facilities. This regional-scale facility at the Curtin University precinct will be enjoyed by the community at large.
To finish off, I support and congratulate the Morrison government on their new budget, securing Australia's recovery.
It was a pleasure to listen to the member for Swan undertake a 'this is your life' of his own career since 2007. Congratulations to the member for Swan. It's a great pleasure to rise and talk on the appropriation bills for 2021-22. This was an extraordinary budget in so many ways: a government has been able to rack up $1 trillion in debt and yet right through the budget papers there is the sorry reality for working families across Australia that, with $1 trillion of debt and $100 billion or thereabout in new spending, their wages will actually go backwards. Wages will actually go backwards over the next four years. It is just an extraordinary indictment on this government's budget—and probably no surprise, because we remember the former finance minister, who I think takes over as Secretary-General of the OECD this week, who pointed out that low wages and low wage growth were a deliberate policy feature of this government. We see it right through the biggest-spending budget anyone can remember.
The extraordinary thing about this budget, to my mind, is the complete lack of any fiscal discipline in the spending. I think everyone here in the parliament and across the community understands that stimulus spending required to get the economy through the pandemic recession, spending required to roll out the vaccine and suchlike, spending particularly associated with the emergency is going to be spending essentially borrowed and will be paid back when we get through this emergency, as we will.
But the extraordinary thing about this budget is the recurrent expenditure baked into the budget for which there is no fiscal discipline whatsoever. The breezy way in which the Treasurer essentially overturned four decades of fiscal orthodoxy in this country by putting in place big new spending programs—some of them quite worthy, and I'll talk about that—without any sense of how they would be paid for is just extraordinary. Gough Whitlam did it. Fraser did it. But since the early 1980s it has been a fundamental understanding in this place that, where there is recurrent spending—good, bad or indifferent—baked into a budget, the government of the day has a responsibility to tell the Australian people how it will be paid for. Bob Hawke took a Medicare levy to the people in 1983 and put that in place to underpin the fiscal sustainability of that wonderful reform. We did it more recently in relation to the NDIS.
The two big features of new spending in this budget were in aged care and mental health, two areas I'm quite familiar with. The last two substantial packages in both of those policy areas were put in place while I was the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing a decade or so ago, and I can tell you that, of the almost $4 billion of new measures in Living Longer Living Better, a big new aged-care reform package, every single dollar was offset. There was not a single new dollar of spending in that, because we understood that we needed to put in place a better aged-care system and be able to look the Australian people in the eye and say, 'This is how we are paying for it.' And that's hard. It's hard work going through a system, finding efficiencies that regear a system that at that stage was heavily geared towards residential care and gearing it more towards home care.
In the mental health package, about the same quantum as the package announced in this budget in nominal terms—not real terms; in real terms our package was bigger back a decade ago—80 per cent of that package was offset. These were hard measures that I had to wring out of the MBS system by changing the way in which GPs were remunerated for mental health plans and suchlike. None of it was easy and none of it was particularly popular, but I was able on behalf of the government to say, 'This is a new package of measures and this is how we are paying for it.' It's just extraordinary, to me, the breeziness with which the Treasurer has stood up and baked in quite considerable new spending into the budget, feeling no obligation to tell the Australian people how they will be paid for, because they will be paid for at some point.
I want to talk a bit about the aged-care measures that were announced a few weeks ago in the budget. I think everyone understands the depth of the crisis that aged care was experiencing—and still is experiencing because none of the announcements have actually changed the facts on the ground. As I said, 10 years or so ago the Gillard government put in place a very substantial body of reforms, under Living Longer Living Better, that responded to a very good Productivity Commission report that was the subject of deep engagement with the sector—with providers, with seniors' groups, with aged-care unions, with clinicians—over a period of about 12 or 18 months. Out of that we came up with a package that all players, if you like, within the sector were able to get behind.
It was a foundational reform. As I said, it shifted very substantially from an overwhelmingly residential care focus to home care. It tried to come to grips with some of those workforce issues that have bedevilled this sector for many, many years: poor pay, high turnover, variable training arrangements. It also came to grips with the growing incidence of dementia in our community broadly and in the aged-care sector in particular. It moved to a model of consumer-directed care so that the consumers and their choice about the services they received, and the way in which they received them, would lie at the heart of the system, replacing an overwhelmingly provider-centred model that had really characterised aged care since its inception in this country. This was really a parallel process of putting consumers at the centre of new models of social service in the aged-care system, which was an existing Commonwealth system, and the new National Disability Insurance Scheme, that the member for Maribyrnong—who is here—played such a central role in setting up.
These were foundational reforms. They were not expected to change the system, in and of themselves, but they were expected to regear the system to allow a decade of change that would ensure, first of all, that Australians receiving aged care through that decade, and now in 2021, were receiving the best possible care, but, just as importantly, that the system would be ready for the very big demographic shift that will happen when the baby-boomer generation starts qualifying or reaching the age where they start to use aged-care services. It's probably in the next five to seven years for home-care services and a couple of years after that for residential-care services. This is a very big lift in demand, and the sector is—and frankly even 10 years ago—struggling to deal with the existing demand from the pre-boomer generation. There is no way it is going to be able to deal with the boomer generation and the demand that that involves numbers-wise if it is not regeared.
As a foundational set of reforms it was intended to be followed up. It was legislated to be followed up by a five-year review in the middle part of the last decade. We'd lost government by then, unfortunately, but David Tune, a very highly regarded public servant, who had been secretary of the finance department when we were in government, was commissioned by—I'm not sure whether it was Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull at that stage, probably Tony Abbott. He delivered a very good five-year report for the next stage of the reforms and that report went absolutely nowhere. The government did not act on a single recommendation from that report. Instead, the now Prime Minister, who was then the Treasurer, followed the report up with $1.7 billion of cuts in the 2016-17 financial year. So a sector that was already under enormous pressure had money ripped out of it by the now Prime Minister, then Treasurer. It was not redistributed elsewhere through the aged-care system but instead returned to consolidated revenue.
We also saw the growth of the Home Care Packages scheme, which was a scheme that we set-up through Living Longer Living Better. At that point, about 10 years ago, there were 60,000 Home Care Packages in the system—obviously not enough so in the 2012 budget we put in place arrangements to increase that through the decade and add 85,000 packages to that so that by the end of the decade there would be 145,000 packages as a base investment. We added 85,000 places to the home-care system in one budget, in 2012, and in the eight budgets after that this government added 50,000. So 85,000 in one budget and from this government 50,000 stretched across seven different budgets. That pathetic contribution disregarded the core of what older Australians want, which is the capacity to stay at home for as long as they possibly can—if at all possible, for the rest of their lives. It was disregarded by Tony Abbott, by Malcolm Turnbull and by the current Prime Minister. So we saw, unsurprisingly, home-care waiting lists blow out. Members—certainly those on this side of the Federation Chamber—know that they've been structurally set at about 100,000 people for years now. A hundred thousand people have been approved for a home-care package by an aged-care assessment team and are just not able to get it.
The Productivity Commission, in their most recent Report on government services, say that, on average, people are waiting for a level 4 package—the highest level of need, a substantial package of funding from taxpayers to the tune of about $55,000 a year—more than two years. Again unsurprisingly, and so tragically, people who need that level of care but don't get it either die waiting for it—and every single year thousands of older Australians die having been approved for a home-care package but not having received it—or have to go into residential care. The whole purpose of that scheme, to keep people out of residential care, is falling down because of a lack of investment by this government.
So we had a system in crisis that was pushed into even deeper crisis by the current Prime Minister ripping $1.7 billion out of it in the 2016-17 budget and MYEFO. Unsurprisingly, we saw the sorts of experiences, the travesties, that were first portrayed through the very brave Four Corners report on aged care and then revealed in the follow-up royal commission, which we finally dragged the Prime Minister kicking and screaming to. We heard about maggots in wounds, about 68 per cent of older Australians either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. We heard people talking about the emergence of scurvy in the aged-care system again. There had been just appalling neglect—and that was the title of the interim report, Neglectof older Australians, who had built this community, worked hard, paid taxes, raised their families.
The royal commission, to their credit, set a very clear pathway out of that crisis and into a system we could be proud of. It's not easy, it's not cheap, it will take years to implement, but the pathway is clear. The package announced a few weeks ago does not keep faith with that pathway. It includes very poor transparency and accountability arrangements. Providers we saw through the royal commission and Four Corners, who in some cases—a minority of cases but egregious cases—were pocketing taxpayer funds to buy Maseratis, put into stock options and such like will be under no more pressure to make sure that the additional money the Treasurer announced a few weeks ago goes to care and not into their pockets. There were no additional accountability mechanisms of the type that were recommended by the royal commission.
The government have made insufficient effort to clear the home-care waiting list: 80,000 packages over two years to clear a home-care waiting list that's already at 100,000 and that we know, through demographics, is going to grow over the coming four years. They've done nothing about wages, in spite of the fact that everyone with even a casual understanding of aged care understands that poor wages, high turnover and variable training arrangements are at the core of the quality question in aged care, as they are in so many different parts of the social services sector which have essentially been outsourced, through the Commonwealth government, to private organisations.
Lastly, and most importantly, they've done nowhere near enough on ratios that were recommended by the royal commission, and have been recommended by experts for some time now, to ensure that a sufficient number of minutes of care are provided to people in residential care by people of particular qualifications. The most perplexing thing for me, I have to say, is that the government did not accept and implement the royal commission's recommendation that there be a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To me, it's emblematic of the government's failure to follow the core recommendations of the royal commission: minimum minutes of care every day; minimum staffing ratios for registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal care assistants, or assistants in nursing, as they're called in some jurisdictions; a proper effort to lift wages for some of the lowest paid but most important workers in our community; and more transparency and accountability from providers for the enormous funds that they receive.
I congratulate the member for Hindmarsh for his very accurate description of how we've got into the mess that the nation is in on aged care. In my address on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and related bills, I've been asked by constituents who have been seafarers to perhaps talk about part of the national debate which doesn't always get the attention it deserves. As I come from a family of seafarers, I thought I might make my contribution in that vein. It may interest members and other Australians listening to this that in two days it's the 79th anniversary of the sinking of the Iron Chieftain. The Iron Chieftain was a vessel of 4,812 tons, and it was sunk by a Japanese torpedo 45 miles east of Sydney. In two days time it'll be the 79th anniversary of the sinking of the Iron Chieftain. Australian seafarers died on that vessel. Indeed, throughout the Second World War, Australian seafarers suffered horrendous casualties, and it is to this function of the role of our shipping lanes and ships that I wish to address my appropriation remarks. I do it in the spirit of the 79th anniversary of the sinking of the Iron Chieftain 45 miles off Sydney.
Australian seafaring and Australian shipping are in a parlous state, not least because of the policy neglect of successive coalition budgets. Labor is yet to fully articulate its policy for the next federal election, and our very capable shadow ministers will be talking about that. But, reflecting the wishes of Australian seafarers in my electorate and across Australia, I thought I might remind them of some of the policies that we took to the 2019 election which provide, I think, very good ideas going forward for the principles of future policy. I acknowledge in the development of the 2019 policy the work of our current leader, Anthony Albanese, who was then transport spokesperson, and myself.
There are three principles which I think the budgets of the coalition and, indeed, Labor could afford to look at. We need to enhance our economic sovereignty and national security. What we suggested doing in 2019 was to create a strategic merchant fleet to secure our access to fuel supplies even in times of global instability. Australia relies on shipping to move 99 per cent of our imports and exports. It is in Australia's economic, environmental and national security interest to maintain a vibrant maritime industry. But, worryingly, Australia's own merchant fleet, as well as the skilled workforce it trains and employs, is fast disappearing. Over the past 30 years, the number of Australian flagged vessels has shrunk from 100 to approximately 14. It is in our national interest to change this direction.
In successive coalition budgets, under Prime Ministers Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison, they've stood idle as large multinationals have dumped Australian flagged and crewed vessels so they could hire overseas crews. This has destroyed the jobs of Australian seafarers and created a situation where none of our vessels that our nation relies upon to deliver its essential supplies of crude oil, aviation fuel and diesel are registered in this country or crewed by Australians.
Whilst the steps by the government to secure the remaining two refineries were a welcome development, supported by Labor—suggested, indeed, by Labor before the last election—one thing we did suggest at the last election is that there should be a task force appointed to guide the establishment of a national strategic merchant fleet which could include up to a dozen vessels, including oil tankers, container ships and gas carriers. The Australian flagged and crewed vessels under the policy pre 2019 were to be privately owned and operated on a commercial basis, but they were to be available to be requisitioned by the government in time of national need.
We suggested before the last election that a strategic fleet task force would examine the fine details of the establishment of the fleet. We believed that that task force could include representatives of oil companies, ship owners and operators, the industry body—Maritime Industry Australia—the maritime unions and, of course, the Department of Defence. But this wasn't the only proposal which was put forward. We need to have legislative reform. We said then that the reforms introduced in 2012 should be enforced to prevent further undercutting of the Australian flagged fleet. Our leader, when he was transport spokesperson, promised to stop the abuse of temporary licences that occurred in breach of existing legislation and ensure that the national interest is prioritised when it comes to licensing foreign ships working in Australia.
We need to enforce these laws around coastal shipping. Merely because the economic activity takes part just beyond the breakers doesn't mean that it's not relevant to the Australian economy. We should require firms to seek out Australian operators and, where none are available, foreign flagged vessels should be used, as long as they pay Australian-level wages on domestic sectors. We wouldn't have aeroplanes flying overhead doing Australian flagged work in our air. But, somehow, because it's at sea, we assume that anything goes. I think that a strategic fleet, whether it is of the nature that we outlined and I took to the polls in 2019, or indeed subsequent work and reforms suggested by others, would put an end to the unilateral economic disarmament whilst providing a platform for the training of more Australian seafarers. We also should re-establish, perhaps, the maritime workforce development forum. It was abolished by the coalition short-sightedly after they took office in 2013. We must make sure that the issuing of temporary licences, allowing foreign flagged and crewed vessels to work around the coasts, is properly enforced.
This is not just an appeal to the defence of our nation or economic sovereignty. Other First World nations have re-established shipping fleets. Australia should, too. We are an island and custodians of an island continent. In the past 30 years the number of Australian flagged vessels has fallen, as I've said, from 100 to around just 14 vessels. Somehow, Norway, with a smaller population, has 519 vessels carrying the Norwegian flag; the United Kingdom, in 2019, had 1,157 British flagged vessels; and China, of course, never short to observe economic advantage, has 4,608 flagged vessels. We think that the abuse of the licensing system, providing licences for work that isn't temporary, and in cases where Australian vessels have been available, is a black mark on the coalition's credentials to be interested in national security.
The reforms outlined in 2019, the reforms suggested in collaboration with the Maritime Union of Australia, with the marine and power engineers and deck officers, are also about taking advantage of the blue highway. The blue highway around our continent is without a doubt the most effective and cheapest way to move cargo and freight around Australia. Indeed, there have been employers from the ports who have said that, without strategic intervention, Australian shipping will disappear. Gone will be our industry's ability to train Australians to run some of our most nationally significant infrastructure, its ports.
Ports are major employers of Australians, with maritime skills filling roles as harbourmasters, pilots, tug masters and hydrographers. There is a national and global shortage of specialised mariners. Part of the problem is that, in our maritime industry at the moment, over 60 per cent of the skilled people in the sector are over 45, whilst the number aged under 30 is reducing. Regional ports will struggle to attract adequately skilled people for specific roles. These aren't just my words; they're the words, in 2019, of Mike Gallacher, the chief executive of Ports Australia.
As I said at the opening of my address in this appropriations matter, shipping is an area, because it's beyond the breakers, that doesn't attract the same attention as other matters, but we need a strong and revitalised Australian flagged shipping industry with a securely employed Australian workforce. This is important for our economic security, for our national security and for environmental protection. As I said at the opening of my words, in two days time it'll be the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Iron Chieftain. The Iron Chieftain tragically wasn't the only Australian vessel or, indeed, allied vessel sunk off the Australian continent in Australian territories in the Second World War. Contrary to some popular beliefs, Australia's merchant seamen at that stage were not well paid, they did not have comfortable working hours and their living conditions were often very poor. The seafarers were accused of untoward industrial action in the Second World War, but the Australian seafarer actually almost always entered the Second World War on the basis of poor pay, extreme danger and poor working and living conditions. In 1972, the Seamen's Union of Australia researched that 386 members of their union lost their lives during the Second World War. Given the union's claim of a total membership of 4,500 at the beginning of the war, the overall fatality rate amongst Australian seafarers in the Second World War was 8½ per cent, a higher fatality rate than any branch of the Australian military forces.
Australia is an island nation. Labor will no doubt have a strong, pro-maritime policy at the next election. There was a lot of good work done prior to the last election on our maritime policies. But this isn't even a question of Labor or Liberal. We're an island country; we need to understand and appreciate that the blue highway that surrounds us is an economic opportunity but also a national security challenge. We've seen in the time of COVID that, all of a sudden, supplies and things which we take for granted in our shops have not been able to be shipped to Australia. We've seen vaccines not shipped to Australia because we don't make them here and other countries put first claim upon them. We've seen our own supplies taken from this country overseas by other countries seeking to take our resources in times of economic difficulty. A island nation without ships is a nation that is defenceless.
There are more ways of undermining Australian sovereignty than simply by force of military arms. If we ever get into a conflict, we will wonder where our seafarers, our ship's engineers and our skilled maritime crews will come from? On that basis, one of the matters which appropriations should be dealing with in the future is our economic sovereignty, and one of the ways we will do that, along with the other policies already announced by the Albanese Labor opposition, is by having proper Australian seafaring ships.
I rise to make a very brief contribution about the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-22 and particularly to go to the aspects of this bill that deal with the impact of COVID, because that has been the main focus of parliamentary debate. As a non-Victorian in the House, I want to say that I stand in solidarity with every single Victorian at this moment. They are going through a horrible period through no fault of their own, a period created because of the failures of this federal government. Let's be clear about it: they are dealing with issues created by this government's failure on two fronts—(1) to have an effective national quarantine system; and (2) to have a vaccine rollout worth its name.
On the national quarantine system, the fact that we had reports today of another outbreak of COVID—an internal hotel infection in Perth—just demonstrates that the states are doing their best but this is a responsibility solely of the federal government. If we had a federal government worth its own name, it would be doing something about it. Secondly, these community outbreaks, which are inevitable because of this government's incompetence, would be dealt with so much better if we had a proper vaccine rollout. We saw utter mendacity from the Prime Minister and the minister for health today, where they got it wrong yet again about the facts and figures. Minister Hunt has had to correct himself many times, but the fact remains that a significant portion of aged-care residents still have not received two jabs, most aged-care workers haven't received two jabs and, quite disgracefully, the vast majority of disability care residents have not received two jabs. These outbreaks will continue while this government's incompetence continues. That's why we urgently need for this government to do its job, implement an effective national quarantine strategy and implement a national vaccine rollout worth its name. Until those two things are fixed this government will preside over a COVID pandemic that will get worse and worse. Its attempts to blame the states will not succeed, because the Australian public understand who's responsible for this mess, and that is the federal government.
Question agreed to.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:25