House debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail

10:30 am

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government's budget is securing Australia's recovery through protecting jobs today and making it easier for Australians to get a job or, frankly, hire an employee tomorrow. We have a plan to set up Australia's workforce for the long term, not just for the coming months but for the coming decades. We're doing this while keeping Australians employed and getting more Australians into work. The unemployment rate has recovered to pre-COVID levels. It is at 5.5 per cent today. There were over 13 million Australians in jobs before the pandemic. There are now more Australians in work post the pandemic. This is the only advanced nation in the world that can claim that. It is clear that our plan is working.

The budget ensures Australians can upskill and reskill to get a job, setting them on the path to success while also securing Australia's economic prosperity. We're building the workforce Australia needs today and tomorrow through putting in place programs that will help Australians achieve their aspiration and realise their potential. The budget includes a commitment for an additional $1.5 billion investment to extend the highly successful Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program. There will be a wage subsidy for a further six months to support new apprentices and trainees who will commence by 31 March 2022, picking up the raft of school leavers for this year.

It's also critical we connect as many Australians with jobs as possible. To do this, the government will deliver the biggest transformational reform of employment services in two decades, committing do get Australians on payment into work. As part of the reform, we're investing $481.2 million to support vulnerable and disadvantaged young people to transition to or into work or education, including apprenticeships or traineeships. In securing our recovery, the government will continue to support small and family businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We get what it takes to own and operate your own business. Make no mistake, you'll find no better friend in small and family business than the Morrison government. Our economic recovery is paramount. With a jobs led recovery at the heart of this budget, the Morrison government is securing Australia's future by getting more Australians into work and supporting them on that journey.

10:33 am

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

Employment is completely fundamental to our society. It has been accepted throughout our history as a nation that employment, and the living wage that comes from it, is the passport to being able to enjoy all the benefits, services and opportunities that the fantastic Australian community provides. But, for that to be the case, employment needs to be secure. It needs to be appropriately paid. It needs to pay a living wage. We can look at statistics, which are a headline, which often don't tell the whole story.

Small business is a profoundly important part of that equation. Small business, in truth, has been taken for granted by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government since the time it came to office. All the original thinking about how to improve the circumstances of small business in this country has emanated from this side of the parliament. But the critical question is making sure that we are getting people, either through small business or through being employed, into a situation where they have secure, well-paid employment which enables them to get a mortgage and which enables them to raise children, to have a family.

The ABS data in terms of unemployment is one question. When we look at the question of underemployment, it has been persistent under this government since before COVID-19 hit. So we have a situation now where there are something like two million Australians who are looking for work in this country. No amount of self-congratulation on the part of the government gets past that very disturbing fact. But perhaps the most critical stat in all of this—the one that doesn't get enough attention and the one that speaks to the way in which our society is failing to give people employment, that passport to the opportunities of Australian society—is what's happening with the long-term unemployed.

Since this government came to power, all the stats in relation to the long-term unemployed have been going the wrong way—all of them. The number of long-term unemployed, no matter which way you look at it, is growing at a rate which can lead to no other conclusion than that we as a society are, in fact, leaving people behind. That is exactly the challenge which this government is failing to address. The number of long-term unemployed hit 245,000 in March of this year. That's up almost 70,000 over the past 12 months. More than half of those who are receiving unemployment benefits now are classified as long-term unemployed. Of the recipients of unemployment benefits, 64 per cent have been on JobSeeker for more than a year. That is the issue.

There is, of course, a critical role for the system to play in getting the short-term unemployed back into work. It's very important. But it's the question of the long-term unemployed, those who the system ultimately is leaving behind, where we need to look at how we are coming up with proposals and coming up with policy which actually makes a difference to that number and starts turning the trajectory of that around, because over the last eight years it has been going in precisely the wrong direction. Whenever this government comes up with a program to try and do something about it, it doesn't cut the mustard.

We were told that JobMaker was going to heroically create 450,000 jobs. The truth is that, nine months down the track, it's fallen 449,000 jobs short of the target. There are only about 1,000 jobs that have been created by that particular wage subsidy program, so it's making no difference at all to the most profound issue which is affecting those who are looking for work in this country—in a sense, the most profound question around the whole way in which we see work in this country. So my question to the minister is this: when will this government actually deliver on real and meaningful change to produce a plan which will deal with long-term unemployment in Australia?

10:38 am

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very proud to be the representative for the rural electorate of Braddon in the great state of Tasmania. I'm also a proud former employer and small-business owner in the agricultural sector within the state. I understand, like most business owners understand, the connection that we have to our employees. I know what it's like to employ people when work downturns mean it's difficult to pay them each fortnight. But I also know what it's like to make them a priority.

I would like to commend all the small-business owners and employers that we have within the great state of Tasmania and the wonderful connection that they've maintained with their employees. They've stood by them, and they've looked after them. To bolster this, so too have the Australian federal government, the Morrison government, supported our small businesses in doing that. Our initiatives have been aimed in keeping people in work, keeping them connected to their employment—keeping that job open so that when this downturn finally remedies itself then those employees can resume life as normal. Minister, I applaud your work and all that you've done to make that happen, particularly in my electorate.

Our budget this year, 2021-22, is focused on creating jobs, and rightly so. We understand that small business is the engine room of our economy; it is paramount. Our employment pathways have been designed to get people back into work, and they include assistance for those who face greater risks and challenges in the labour market. The government, as part of the budget, will deliver a new, streamlined employment service model. This model will create a modern and sophisticated service to replace jobactive. It will be an effective, efficient digital service to support and enhance face-to-face engagement with providers in linking jobseekers to employers. I'll admit that, in the past, this process has been clunky, and to that end I congratulate the minister on improving and streamlining it.

We've tried to make it easier for jobseekers to connect. As part of our budget there will an $80.8 million investment in the Digital Services Contact Centre to enable responsive, person-to-person assistance for jobseekers in the digital services area, for those who wish to self-manage their way back into employment. Under this new reform, the government is investing $481.2 million to expand and strengthen the government's youth specialist employment service. It's a great initiative. It's a transition back to work for them. This service will provide extensive, time limited assistance for an average case load of around 40,000 young people who are at risk if they don't transition into employment or further education. We need to link them to a light at the end of the tunnel.

In addition to this, $129.8 million will be provided to redesign and streamline self-employment and small business support under the new model. Under the New Business Assistance with New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, services will be simplified. There will be enhanced eligibility, with the number of places expanded to 12,000. This can only be a positive thing for young people getting into work. Our 2021-22 budget also targets measures to support local solutions, to better connect jobseekers, employment service provides, employers and training organisations.

Minister, I'll take this opportunity to thank you for taking part in the jobs fair that we conducted in the Devonport region in my electorate of Braddon. It was very well received. The positive feedback that I received was overwhelming, so I thank you for that. We are doing what we can, where we can, and I congratulate the minister on making this a tailor-made fit for our regions in particular. We understand that they have peculiar difficulties when it comes to connecting jobseekers to jobs.

Minister, I will close with a question. My question to you is: how will this budget continue to create jobs, continue to promote small business and continue our economic recovery, particularly in the state of Tasmania?

10:43 am

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

After eight long years, the Morrison government is still playing catch-up on apprenticeship numbers. Based on the latest data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, there are 150,000 fewer apprentices in training than there were under the former Labor government. The numbers are unequivocal. In fact, what the latest data shows is a fall in apprenticeship numbers between the most recent quarters, the June and September quarters.

You could be fooled into thinking that when the Treasurer, on budget night, said that the government 'will create more than 170,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships' it would do just that: create additional apprenticeships, above the usual number of around 150,000. At Senate estimates we asked the department for clarity, yet, despite all the chest beating from the government, we were met with doublespeak from officials, who could not tell us just how many new apprenticeships would be created from the Morrison government's apprenticeship funding—whether it would be 170,000 in total commencements, which is not too different from business as usual under the Liberals and actually lower than under Labor. In fact, the budget papers make it clear that apprenticeship funding from the Morrison government in the current budget is lower than in 2020-21 and that in the last budget that funding will fall dramatically from current levels down through to 2024-25. We know that when it comes to apprentices and this government there are big flashy announcements but never any follow-up. We know the government has access to apprenticeship numbers before the rest of us do, but what is unclear is why it finds it so hard to explain what its apprenticeship numbers in the budget actually mean. Supported apprenticeships and apprentices are vital for small and large businesses around Australia, so why isn't the government coming clean on its apprenticeship plans, Minister?

Also this government claims it is the party of small business, but look at the hundreds of thousands of small businesses who lost income, staff and, for many, their entire livelihoods through the COVID crisis. I'm only speaking about the businesses who managed to keep their heads above water as a result of the JobKeeper supplement. We're yet to see the true impact of the recent lockdown in Melbourne that came post-JobKeeper and what the reality for them is. We're happy to see that from the Victorian government there was some support offered for these businesses, though many were left still struggling. There have been reports that small businesses and sole traders were ineligible for those supports because they didn't earn enough.

It is of course good that the Victorian government provided some support for these businesses, but, as we in this place are all very well aware, vertical fiscal imbalance means it really falls on the federal government to pick up the economic and financial requirements during a pandemic like this and to provide that support to small business, as it was eventually dragged kicking and screaming to do through the JobKeeper program. We have seen some payments—welcomed, though clearly inadequate—being made available to individuals, yet there hasn't been any support provided in the same way that was available under JobKeeper to the small businesses being affected by the lockdown in Victoria.

In Victoria in particular, because of the unique nature in which they have experienced spread and lockdown, their businesses have been uniquely vulnerable to further lockdowns as this COVID pandemic has progressed, yet they don't have the opportunity to claim JobKeeper and they don't have the opportunity to be afforded any additional support by the federal government as they go through this further lockdown—a lockdown that has extended for more than seven days. In this lockdown businesses are struggling to pay rent because there are now no rent holidays and mortgage relief. Businesses are finding themselves in one of the most vulnerable periods as they continue to experience lockdown in this regard, so why doesn't the government support small businesses in Australia when they are in their time of greatest need, Minister?

10:47 am

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia's recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic continues in the right direction. We've seen over the past seven months or so that more and more people are getting back into the workforce. The most recent employment figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Australia's unemployment rate for April was 5.5 per cent. The peak last June was at 7.4 per cent. Employment data for May will be released in a couple of days, and there's no reason to expect this downward trend won't continue.

These figures are not a happy coincidence; they are a direct result of the government's initiatives to help business bounce back from the pandemic and get people back into work. There's tax relief for more than 10 million Australian families, as well as initiatives like the expanded and supercharged instant asset write-off program. These initiatives, along with others like the JobMaker hiring credit and the SME Recovery Loan Scheme, are helping push unemployment down to levels not seen since late 2019. But there's still more to do.

In my electorate of Longman I regularly hear from local business owners. Their feedback reveals a strange tale. People are looking for work yet businesses often can't find the staff that they need to fill certain roles. To help solve this issue the government's 2021-22 budget is investing an additional $2.7 billion in the skills sector. This will expand and extend the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy to encourage more businesses to take on new apprentices and trainees. The most recent apprentice data for my electorate of Longman revealed that there were 1,300 apprentices and trainees working across a whole range of different sectors, from boilermakers, to chefs, to construction, to auto repairers. The expanded Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy program will open the door for even more people to get on-the-job training in Longman. Apprenticeships and traineeships are so important to giving people a solid grounding in skills to carry them through for the rest of their lives. These entry-level positions are a key pathway to employment, particularly for younger people but also for adults looking for a career change. The wage subsidy will help get more people in skills training and help prevent any future skills shortage. Given the program's massive success since being introduced, it made sense to lift the cap on places and extend it by a full 12 months.

On top of this investment an additional $500 million over two years will go towards extending the JobTrainer Fund, delivering around 163,000 new free or low-fee training places. This program is helping people in my electorate to reskill or upskill for an in-demand job to provide them with the best chance of getting into a job once they complete their training. Participants can choose from a range of accredited diplomas, certificates and short courses in areas like health, IT and trades. It also includes around 33,800 aged-care places to enable existing and new aged-care workers to improve their qualifications. To help young people make informed decisions about education and training pathways, the 2021-22 budget also provides $7.6 million over two years to extend the National Careers Institute's 1800 CAREER information service. This service will now be in place until 30 June 2023. Through the service, school leavers can get advice to help them navigate the current education and workforce landscape. It may even open the door to career options that suit their skills and interests that they hadn't even thought of yet.

The Morrison government also recognises the need for specialist skills in emerging areas like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, data analytics, game design and animation. The budget recognises this need, and through the digital skills cadetship trial we are creating new avenues for young people to move into these digital careers. An investment of $10.7 million over three years will support up to four industry led trials to develop new and innovative pathways. The government is also providing $285 million as part of its commitment to skills reform. This will ensure governments, employers and students invest in the training that delivers the best outcomes to strengthen Australia's skill base. Key reform initiatives include establishing 15 industry owned skills enterprises, which will strengthen the role of the industry in the VET system. This will mean qualifications are aligned to the skills that are in demand by employers, increase workforce productivity and get more learners into jobs. The reform also provides increased support for foundational skills training, including expanding the Skills for Education and Employment program. Will the minister please explain how the Morrison government's investment in skills and apprenticeships will help guarantee the pipeline of skilled workers that Australia needs to continue our economic recovery?

10:53 am

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

When the idea of employment services in Australia was first contemplated, it was based on the question: how can we get the best result for our society and economy by creating more productive jobs and businesses and linking them to the people who need them? We know Australians want to work. But well-paid, secure jobs simply are not there, or at least they don't seem to be available. Only one country in the OECD has more casual jobs than we have here in Australia. When it comes to employment services, there are four things the New Employment Services Model has missed. The Treasurer talked a lot about full employment before the budget, but when it came to the delivery of the budget it was nowhere to be found. The use of technology should be about doing things better, not just efficiencies using digital platforms as a tool for cost cutting. So much good work was done as part of consulting on the new system, but it looks like the findings of the review of the current system have been forgotten.

There is limited investment in longer-term unemployment. We know that well over half of the people on unemployment payments are long-term unemployed. Addressing this means creating more well-paid, secure jobs. Nothing we have heard from the employment minister since his appointment offers any confidence to anyone looking for a job that this government is on their side. If the best the Morrison government can come up with for close to two million Australians looking for work is a hotline for employers to report people who haven't agreed to a job regardless of the reason, they really are showing the hallmarks of a tired and empty eight-year-old government. We know from the most recent round of estimates that just eight cases have been subject to compliance activity under the new hotline. What a bargain!

We're not opposed to reform, but that must be fair and improve outcomes for people accessing employment services and the people providing them. The government needs to explain why it is rushing through the New Employment Services Model instead of spending some time to get it right. The best path to employment is more job creation, and yet industries are experiencing workforce shortages. How is it that the government has got it so wrong over its last eight years that it hasn't managed to ensure enough Aussies are suitably trained for the jobs that are available and needing to be filled?

Getting skills and employment policy right has never been more important. And, after eight long years under this tired, old Liberal government, we are in the midst of a skills crisis with one in five businesses reporting difficulty finding suitably skilled staff. At the same time the number of long-term unemployed in the job hunt has never been greater as part of the employment services case load.

The minister was appointed as minister for education, skills, employment and small business on 30 March this year. Since then, the department has entered into 579 contracts worth millions of dollars. We have rightly raised concerns about whether processes are in place so that we do not end up in a situation where government contracts end up being shrouded in concerns over conflicts of interest.

At Senate estimates we were advised that there is an annual process as part of the development of the department's financial statements where ministers, coordinated through the Department of Finance, are required to declare related transactions. We heard that there is an annual process where any ministers from the department that had a relationship with any of the transactions or entities that the department is dealing with are declared and ministers would be assessed through a process so that the department became aware of any potential conflicts of interest. Our concern here is not one of politics but the need to always ensure that appropriate processes are in place so that the millions of dollars in contracts are not awarded inappropriately, as seemed to be the case with the same minister back in 2016. The department has advised there's a process for assessing these potential conflicts with regard to the minister at the end of the year. If that is the end of the financial year, all the better, because that is only a few weeks away. We need to know that this process is undertaken and that this will be a transparent process so Australians can have confidence in the integrity of the decision-making and procurement processes of this government. After sports rorts, the Leppington Triangle and a proposed integrity commission with absolutely no teeth, when will the conflict of interest review in relation to Minister Robert take place?

10:58 am

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) Share this | | Hansard source

The Labor party hasn't changed—more grubby lies and smears from them. If they were any lower in the gutter they'd be covered in mud from head to toe. You'd expect the opposition to come forward to commend the government as the only advanced economy on the planet that has more of their citizens employed now than pre-pandemic, but, no, we don't hear of that. We don't hear of saying to the government the economic growth in the last quarter, the March quarter, is at 1.8 per cent quarter growth, one of the leading growth targets in the OECD. No, we don't hear a whole lot about that. But then, again, we don't hear a whole lot from the opposition anyway.

The budget is securing Australia's recovery through protecting jobs today and making it easier for Australians to get a job or hire an employee tomorrow. The government's committing more than $2.7 billion in the already successful Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program and the subsidy we paid for a full 12 months from commencement so that we can ensure employers and apprentices realise the full value of this excellent program.

We're also expanding the billion dollar JobTrainer Fund to continue the delivery of low-fee or free training places in areas of skill needs. JobTrainer will ensure Australians can access critical skills and will support more than 450,000 new places to upskill jobseekers and young people across the country.

We're also ensuring as many Australians are connected with work as possible. That's why the Morrison government will deliver the biggest transformation of employment services in the last couple of decades to better support Australians into jobs, commencing from 1 July next year. The model places jobseekers in the driver's seat of their journey from welfare into work, with safeguards to ensure that we don't leave people behind. We're committing $481 million in support for vulnerable and disadvantaged young Australians, providing them with tailored support as part of the Transition to Work program. The Morrison government's Local Jobs Program will significantly expand, at a cost of $213 million over four years, almost doubling the number of regions in the Local Jobs Program. The budget will also ensure Australians can upskill and reskill to get a job and set up our future workforce. We'll invest $30 million to develop a new training register, and a national digital Australian apprenticeship portal will be established as a one-stop shop to help employers manage their apprenticeship workforces and for apprentices to understand their entitlements.

In securing our recovery, the government will continue to support small and family business, because we all know they are the engine room, very much the backbone, of the economy. There is $45 million in tailored programs, including $8 million for a two-year Go Local First campaign to encourage all Australians to shop locally. This budget will see us through the crucial next steps in our economic recovery, and it's a budget that will set us up for the next decade.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Federation Chamber will now consider the education and youth segment of the Education, Skills and Employment portfolio, in accordance with the agreed order of consideration. The question is that the proposed expenditure for the Education, Skills and Employment portfolio be agreed to.

11:01 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

This has been another very good budget as far as the education sector is concerned, right across from early childhood through to schools and higher education. I want to take the opportunity to speak very briefly on a few of the key measures in the budget which are delivered across those few areas.

To start with I want to mention the early childhood area, an area which is very important. This budget has been delivering in spades for the preschools and for the early learning centres, the childcare centres. This budget, for the first time ever in Australian history, locks in long-term funding for preschools across this nation. This hasn't been done before by our government and hasn't been done before by the former government. A four-year agreement will be put in place. That four-year agreement will provide some surety for the sector. We'll also be introducing some reform elements along the way to effectively put in place attendance measures down the track. We want to ensure that there are some performance based measures in there as well in years to come. I'll be negotiating these with my state and territory counterparts in the months ahead.

In the child care area, people would be aware that we announced this just before the budget, but it's an important budget measure: we have added $1.7 billion to the overall funding for child care. We've made two significant changes. Firstly, we've removed the overall fee subsidy cap, which is something people have been calling for for a long time, including in the most recent review which has been done. Secondly, and I think more substantially, we're providing additional subsidies for families who have two or more children in child care. That is because (a) that's when your expenses start to add up, and (b) it's also when you have the highest effective marginal tax rates, for want of a better term, where it becomes almost disadvantageous, in some cases, or not as advantageous as it could be, for a person to do, say, the third or fourth or fifth day of work. These measures really address that. So it's a huge boost for those families with two or more children. We've scheduled that to begin in the middle of next year. As I've said repeatedly, if we can bring that forward, we will.

Just quickly on schools, we've again provided record funding for our schools. It will be $23.4 billion in this calendar year, which is how we fund the school system, and that's $289 billion over the 10-year period. There has never been a better friend of our school system than this government.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

We've increased our overall funding by 80 per cent since coming to office. We've increased our overall funding to government schools by 100 per cent—that is, we have doubled the funding which we have provided to government schools. So I'd say to those opposite who are interjecting: we don't believe the rhetoric which you put out that we've somehow cut funding. The facts speak for themselves: a doubling of funding overall for government schools and an 80 per cent increase for the funding for schools overall. The numbers do not lie, as Minister Gee beside me has just pointed out. We have some specific measures in the budget to complement that overall funding package.

Finally, I'll mention higher education. We have very considerable funding to our universities and to the other higher education providers. I specifically mention an important package of $53 million for the private higher education providers to assist them with some of the financial difficulties which they are going through as well as to provide additional short courses for Australians. Of course, this complements the extra $1.5 billion funding that we gave to the public universities in our October budget last year.

11:06 am

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

This budget was a missed opportunity when it came to early learning and care, and I find it interesting that the minister would like a pat on the back for putting in the forward estimates for preschool funding. It's a basic accounting measure that should have been done some time ago. I reject the premise—there was a national partnership. It was a four-year agreement set out by the Gillard government; that's obviously escaped his memory.

Childcare fees under this government have now gone up 37 per cent. But, importantly for families, out-of-pocket costs have risen to the highest that they have ever been. So I ask this question of the minister: what is he doing to actually curb these out-of-pocket costs for all families? We know in this budget that 75 per cent of families will miss out on any extra support as a result of the subsidy changes. That is many, many people. So I ask the minister: why is it that he has left so many families out of increased support, which he, in his own words, said was the most significant part of the changes? This seems to be a population measure, so my question also to the minister is: was that his plan? How much was the minister involved in designing this policy? Why didn't the minister, when designing his childcare support, actually listen to all the information from what many, many organisations were calling for and design this around productivity?

We know in the last quarter alone that childcare fees have gone up by more than 2.2 per cent—that's three times the CPI figure. Over the past 12 months childcare costs have soared by 3.7 per cent. Childcare costs are eating into the budget of every family that is using child care and are putting a huge strain on them. Twenty-three per cent of parents have said that they are not working, mainly due to the cost of child care. Really, this plan outlined by the minister does nothing to help many, many families with the cost of child care. The budget papers also show that workforce participation rates will decline. So my question to the minister is: how could he possibly have an early education childcare policy that actually delivers lower workforce participation? That is a feat in itself. I would like the minister to answer that question.

The government announced a new childcare policy that doesn't come in until 1 July 2022, after the next election. So it is disingenuous to suggest that they are somehow delivering support now. I would like to hear from the minister about what the IT changes are—what are the impediments to bringing this in earlier, particularly around the cap?

While I understand that changing the subsidy rates now to identify the first child, the second child and the third child in child care and when those arrangements change will require significant investment in IT, removing the cap doesn't. Removing the cap can be done overnight, and so I ask the minister, particularly when it comes to the childcare cap: what are the impediments to actually removing that right now?

In addition to that, the minister was unable to explain whether or not a five-year-old in OSH would be considered under this first or second child arrangement. He wasn't able to answer that in a television interview. I would like to know the answer now. With after-school-hours care, if a child is four-and-a-half, for example, and in out after-school-hours care, will that child be considered to be still the first child, or the second child, and will that benefits flow on to those families? I think that's an important question. Will it be determined on the type of service the child is using? The minister and the government have repeatedly said 'five and under', or 'under five'. A lot of parents want to know practically how that will actually be determined. Will that apply to after-school-hours care? Of course, they also receive the same percentage subsidy, but, under the minister's proposal, it will have a significant impact because, once that child goes to school, the subsidy will jump for that child still remaining in child care. Families want some clarity on this. Families also want relief. Every family deserves relief, and my final question to reinforce this is: why won't the minister provide relief to every family?

11:11 am

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, child care provides more than an opportunity for parents and carers to train and work, and it can set children up to thrive in school once they reach school age. The early years matter. There are countless studies that point to the lifelong impact on the intellectual and emotional development in the first five years of a child's life, and child care can provide critical support in this development. As I've said in previous speeches on this issue, as someone who lives and works in a rural community and as a mother of five children aged six to 17, I'm well acquainted with child care and I've seen and felt the cost impact of it across a whole range of governments of different colours, including under Labor when fees went up by 53 per cent with a one-year spike of an incredible 14½ per cent. Since we came to office, we're spending 77 per cent more than the opposition did during their time, with a record $10.3 billion this year, including $9 billion to subsidise the fees set by childcare services.

It's this government that has delivered on changes for working families that target and assist those who need it most. We introduced the new childcare package in 2018, which was a once-in-a-generation set of reforms that saw out-of-pocket costs fall. We've kept out-of-pocket costs down, and they're still almost a dollar an hour cheaper on average than before we introduced the package. In my home state of Tasmania out-of-pocket costs are the lowest, at $3.28 per hour for centre based day care. In this budget we'll provide an additional $1.7 billion to further help Australian families with more than one child aged five and under in those years that are the most tough on the hip pocket for families. Our budget investment is targeted and will boost the national economy by $1.5 billion per year from an estimated 40,000 Australians working just one extra day a week. These targeted and proportionate measures remove some cost barriers for second-income earners, especially women who want to return to work or to work an extra day a week. By increasing the subsidies for families with a second or third child aged five and under, families will benefit by up to $183 a week. In the Northern Tasmania electorate of Bass, which I represent, there are around 700 families who will benefit from this significant budget investment, including local mother of two Tayla Ralph, who told local media that she was thankful for the changes which will benefit her when her second child begins child care.

Additionally, the annual cap will be removed altogether for families across Australia as part of this year's budget investment, which has been supported by the childcare and business sectors alike, with the Business Council of Australia stating that the policy is 'good for mums and dads, good for businesses and good for the economy.' This record and targeted investment will make a difference to the bottom line for thousands of families who have young children in child care across the country. This childcare package is critical to supporting working families. Of course, as I have raised previously, the costs of child care is not the only issue that affects working parents. Accessibility to suitable child care is a particular challenge in regional communities, particularly for those who are employed or wish to be employed in shift work. For example, in my Northern Tasmania community I have been contacted by parents who are interested in undertaking seasonal work but aren't able to do so because they don't have the ability to get their children into care early enough or they don't have care close enough to where they need to work. Most recently I met with a solo parent who has a thriving business in three states, including Tasmania, and is struggling to find overnight care options to meet her needs.

These are challenges that I'm committed to working to address. I thank the minister for his willingness to listen and work with me on the accessibility challenges facing my electorate. I also thank Minister Tudge for his recent visit to Northern Tasmania, where I hosted a forum with representatives from our local childcare industry to discuss a range of topics, including the benefits of the recent budget announcement; some challenges facing local facilities, such as skill shortages; and the relationship between long day care and preschool. I appreciate the time that the minister took to listen to their concerns. I've committed to hosting further roundtable discussions with the sector. I look forward to working with the minister further to address the issues raised. Would the minister please expand on how the Morrison government is supporting parents to get back into work and to take on more hours?

11:15 am

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We now turn our attention to young Australians in the budget. I've some questions for the minister. This budget has no evidence that young Australians have a vehicle to be heard by this government. We know that when the coalition were first elected then Prime Minister Tony Abbott abolished the Minister for Youth and the Office for Youth. I am pleased that there is now a minister for youth. Unfortunately, his policy development seems to have disappeared. I assume he is a magician.

In 2019 the Youth Taskforce was announced. As we heard in estimates some time ago, it was working to develop a national youth policy framework. That report was due to be handed down in December. It was not handed down in December. What we know from the most recent budget estimates is that the Youth Taskforce has been disbanded, but there is no policy framework. That's still being worked on, despite the final report being due in December.

It is clear there is a problem here. There seems to be a lack of urgency. I would like the minister to talk about why the Youth Taskforce was disbanded before a national youth policy framework was delivered. I would like to know where the national youth policy framework is up to in its development. I would love to know, as it was not tabled in December, when we will actually see this national youth policy framework. It would be good for the minister to give us a preview of some of the issues we can expect to see. Will it outline a way that young Australians can have a direct voice in government? Will it outline a structure or some sort of mechanism within government to allow young Australians to have a direct say in the decisions made by them? Will the minister commit to listening to young Australians? These are important questions that many young Australians have been asking me lately.

My next question is: how much money has been budgeted? We couldn't see any budget line item that would be delivered as part of the national youth policy framework. How much money will be allocated to that framework? What programs might be associated? Obviously the job hiring credit, after promising 450,000 jobs, resulted in 1,000 jobs. We know that the PaTH program has been a bit of a disaster, with young people not choosing to take it up because it doesn't lead to employment. We know the ability to put extra into your super to save for a deposit has been undersubscribed by young Australians. Certainly the runs on the board are not good for this government. That is symbolic of the fact that they are not listening to young Australians.

I would love the minister to give us some time frames about when this policy framework might be developed and tell us how the consultations are continuing to progress, considering that the Youth Taskforce has been abolished; what programs we can expect; when we might expect it; what the government's commitment is to listening to young Australians; and how that will be achieved. These are questions that young Australians are talking about with me. They are feeling disenfranchised as a result of this government's lack of engagement. They are feeling like they've got nowhere to turn, especially after the very tumultuous time that many young Australians have had during the COVID period. They would like to see a plan from this government. That's certainly what they're telling me. I'm very keen to hear from the minister about what that plan might be.

11:20 am

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I also thank the Minister for Education and Youth for outlining to this chamber the record expenditure on education that this government has delivered, and the very important, life-changing budget initiatives that have been delivered through the federal budget process. The minister's doing an outstanding job. To use a sporting analogy, I think he's got the ball on a string at the moment.

This budget builds on our record investment and support for the regions, strengthening our economy, creating jobs—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a rugby analogy. Infrastructure investments, guaranteeing essential services and delivering educational opportunities. They are the hallmarks of this budget. I know it's lost on the other side. Building our capability as a nation is the cornerstone of our economic prosperity, and we know that rests with education. Our government believes that every Australian should have access to a world-class education, and we on this side of the House are particularly passionate about ensuring that country people achieve the same level of education as their city counterparts, that they have the same level of opportunity and educational opportunity as those in the cities.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the government response to the National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy, or the Napthine review as most people know it. The government accepted all the recommendations of that report and committed over $400 million over four years through the more opportunities for regional Australia measures of the job-ready graduates reforms. These measures commenced in January 2021. Some of the highlights over the forward estimates include $177.8 million for the tertiary access payment, which defrays some of the cost of tertiary education for outer regional and remote students through payments of $5,000 for tertiary students; $146 million to increase Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for regional campuses by 3.5 per cent per annum; $48.8 million to enhance the research collaboration capacity of regional universities; and $21 million to establish up to eight additional regional university centres across regional and remote Australia and to strengthen the existing program.

There is $17.1 million for demand-driven Commonwealth supported university places for 1,700 Indigenous students from regional and remote areas; the introduction of the Indigenous, Regional and Low SES Attainment Fund, which includes the expansion of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program, to allow universities to provide additional support to students from regional and remote backgrounds; and a new regional partnerships project pool worth $7.1 million for universities and regional university centres to undertake outreach activities in country areas.

Those initiatives are why our regional universities all backed in the job-ready graduates reforms. We consulted the sector, we listened to the sector and the country universities backed in these game-changing initiatives. Our government has laid out its plan to close the educational gap between regional students and their city based cousins. We're creating more university places for Australian students, with more support for regional students and universities. We're focused on stronger relationships between higher education and industry and less expensive degrees in areas of expected job growth, including the community health disciplines, Deputy Speaker Gillespie—I know that's something very close to your heart. The government is investing a record amount in our primary and secondary schools, as the minister has just outlined. On average, funding per student in regional, rural and remote Australia will grow by 3.8 per cent per year through to 2029, and 2021 sees the start of the $7.5 million Future Leaders Program pilot, which supports high-achieving teachers to become school leaders in rural, remote or disadvantaged schools.

I'm immensely proud of this budget. It's an excellent budget, which delivers for Australians and continues our determination to place regional Australia at the heart of our economic recovery. Make no mistake: our regions are driving this recovery. They are strong and they are vibrant, and we are seeing people move to the regions in record numbers. Last year there was a net gain of 43,000 people moving to the regions from the cities. This budget will help sustain regional communities, create jobs and grow key regional industries.

11:25 am

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to be part of today's consideration in detail of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-22. It gives me an opportunity to speak directly to the minister responsible for school education, and I'll focus most of my questions in that space. Obviously, it's now been eight long years of a very tired Liberal-National government, particularly in the space around schools. There was a lot of activity in the early years of this government, like the immediate 30 per cent cut to the schools budget delivered by Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister. I know many of those opposite think that the care factor around this has died during the pandemic, but some facts can't be changed, and they need to be reminded of those.

The government's schools policy is not needs based, it is not sector blind and it is certainly not fair. The government is providing just 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard to public schools, while non-government schools will receive 80 per cent of their SRS from the federal government. Under this approach, 87 per cent of public schools will never reach what was determined to be their fair level of funding, yet two-thirds of private schools will be funded over the SRS. And, in an electorate like mine, we are already seeing this disadvantage to the public sector being played out, purely and simply, in schools' budgets. The government's record has been extraordinary, and to claim there's been no cut to education spending is extraordinary, particularly from a government that has played with the very important algorithms that determine the SRS and made the cutting decision that the federal government would only provide 20 per cent of the SRS to state schools, which was a complete turnaround from what it was. The minister might like to go through some of the data on the My School website and explain to the secondary school families in the Lalor electorate why their school receives less from the federal government than the private school down the road does. They should know why government made the decision to cap federal funding to support state schools to 20 per cent of the SRS.

During COVID I've visited all of my local schools. I obviously have a keen interest, with my history in state education and as a principal. I'd like to ask the minister how much he appreciates the fact that our Victorian state schools, given the COVID situation, were able to very quickly implement an online learning program. A lot of that was to do with some old policies from a former Labor government that ensured we had one-on-one capability, in most Victorian schools, in terms of IT equipment. I'd like the minister to consider how important that funding was to ensure that, when this pandemic hit, Victorian schools were able to go to a one-on-one learning from home model.

I'd like to express my appreciation to the teachers in both the private and public sectors for their incredible work during the pandemic. They actually doubled their workload, in terms of preparation, delivery, being in the online environment, creating videos after hours and doing all of those things. But I want to ask the minister what he can tell us about the fact that the Victorian and New South Wales governments have both made large commitments—$250 million in Victoria and $337 million in New South Wales—to support schools to support those students who have fallen behind due to the pandemic. Of course, the online environment wasn't perfect for all students. I know that I've visited my schools and seen the testing that's being done, the judgements that are being made and the tutor program that's being rolled out. I want to ask the minister why the federal government aren't making a contribution to that across the country—why it has been left to states to determine that—which, obviously, leaves children in some states not as well off as others.

I'd also ask this minister if there is any conversation going on within government about ensuring that our school teachers, in both public and private schools, are going to get to the front of a queue in the vaccination rollout across this country. I'd like to hear what he thinks about that. I would close by saying that I know the consequences of the government's poor record on school funding, and I will always fight for fair funding for our local schools.

11:30 am

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak in consideration and detail with respect to the education portfolio. As the minister well knows, our higher education sector in Australia is relatively diverse, both in terms of providers and in terms of students. There are 40 Australian universities, one university of specialisation, one university college, one operating overseas university and approximately 142 higher education providers. In 2019 there were 1.6 million people studying in higher education in Australia, and 67 per cent of these were domestic students, 69 per cent were undergraduate, enabling or non-award courses and 55 per cent were female.

We all know that shutting the borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on universities. International student enrolments in 2020 decreased, and this decrease will pipeline over future years. We also know that this has significant impact on universities' financial bottom lines and, again, this will have impact over the coming years. However, a point which I don't think has been aired sufficiently is that university providers have not been hit by the pandemic as significantly as some predicted last year or as some still appear to believe. In February 2021, Universities Australia put out a press release stating that operating revenue across universities fell 4.9 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Of course this varied across universities, but, interestingly, I also note that three universities have reported an increase in revenue over the time period 2019 to 2020.

The decrease in revenue for those who suffered it is undoubtedly causing challenges. But I would also note that this decrease is significantly less than that felt by so many businesses and organisations across the country, and, more significantly, it is far less than the various thresholds which were applied for JobKeeper, being 50 per cent or 30 per cent, depending on turnover. Further, it is significantly less than the 15 per cent which applied to smaller charities. I make this point because there have been a number of occasions over the last 12 months where those opposite have said that the threshold of 15 per cent should have applied to universities. My point is this: even if it had, the universities wouldn't have qualified. The overall drop in revenue was 4.9 per cent.

Of the four Table A universities in Western Australia, the range of turnover decrease was between negative one per cent to negative eight per cent. I also note that at least one university in Western Australia recorded an increase in revenue from onshore fee-paying students in 2020. Student data for 2020-21 this year thus far shows that domestic student enrolments are up five per cent on last year. Yes, international enrolments are down, but the domestic students are up.

I make these points not to say that universities or higher education providers more generally are not facing challenges. They are. I am also not saying they don't need support. They do. But I'm making this point because I believe that quite often the debate in higher education comes down to those opposite portraying the university sector as poor, struggling and hard done by and, further, that this government has abandoned universities. The truth is universities are not poor or hard done by. Their combined annual revenue is well over $30 billion, and the average annual revenue for a university is $800 million. More than 50 per cent of that comes from government—that is, from taxpayers. In 2021 that amount is going to be $20 billion. As a sector and individually, universities are in charge of large amounts of money. Their assets are collectively worth over $60 billion. They have an enormous amount of independence and autonomy, and they are sophisticated organisations with access to experts and advisers, which many businesses and organisations in Australia simply dream about.

Furthermore, the allegation that this government has abandoned universities is demonstrably false. Universities do not exist to serve themselves. They exist to serve the local, national and international communities through providing higher education to individuals and through engagement in research. This government is focused on supporting the core purposes of higher education: on teaching and on research. This leads to my question to the minister: can the minister please update on how the Morrison government is investing in our higher education sector and creating more places for students to study?

11:35 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

To the minister: according to the ABS data last year, more than 65 per cent of Australian school students were enrolled in public schools. That equates to around 2.6 million young Australian students at our wonderful state schools. There were 240,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students enrolled last year, so that's about 83 per cent of First Nations students in public schools. We know that public schools have a higher proportion of students with a disability, receiving either extensive or substantial levels of adjustment when compared with Catholic and independent schools.

For the record, Australian public schools are educating more Australian children, overcoming disadvantage for more Australian children and achieving excellence in education. Public schools are managing to educate their students despite the coalition government failing to properly and fairly fund them. Public schools are being propped up by the blood, sweat and tears of hardworking educators and parents. The Liberals were elected in 2013 on a promise to match Labor's school funding promise dollar for dollar. I saw the corflutes. Instead in 2017 the Liberals changed the funding arrangements for public schools. They unilaterally ended five signed state and territory agreements on school funding, refusing to deliver the final two years of funding. They legislated to cap the Commonwealth contribution to school funding at 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard, the SRS. This change to funding was made when the Prime Minister was the Treasurer. The change will adversely impact public schools into the future: 99 per cent of public schools will be below the SRS by 2023, and half of all public schools won't even reach 95 per cent of the SRS by 2023. Total underfunding of public schools over the next four years is $19 billion. Starving our public schools from the resources needed to educate our children, including some of the most disadvantaged children in Australia, will just entrench inequality.

I know that staff in public schools do incredible work educating every child in their classroom. I know that, regardless of the funding available, teachers do their best to educate every child in front of them. But I also know that the current system is unfair. It's unfair that public schools will never be funded to the standard that was recommended by the Review of funding for schooling: final report in 2011, known as the Gonski review. This is what the review said about the Schooling Resource Standard for public schools:

In recognition of the role of the government sector as a universal provider of schooling, all government schools would be fully publicly funded to the level of the schooling resource standard plus any applicable loadings.

Gonski didn't say '80 per cent of the SRS'—that's what the Northern Territory public schools are currently getting. Gonski didn't say '95 per cent', which half of all public schools won't ever reach. Gonski recommended 100 per cent of the SRS for every child in every school and said:

Every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend.

Adam Rorris is an educational economist and policy analyst who's worked for the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO and DFAT. He recently wrote an article about the Liberal government's 7½ years of neglect of school funding. In the article, he described the SRS as:

… an independent technical estimate of how much total public funding a school needs to meet its students' educational needs. The SRS is not an aspirational standard of school funding, as it is so often painted …

Fair funding based on need is what I want for my children, and it's what every parent wants for their child. So this is my question to the minister: why has the Morrison government locked in inequality by capping funding for public schools at 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard? Please, Minister, don't just talk about the annual increase due to the fact that there are more students in Australia. Go to the heart of that question—the SRS and how it applies to Queensland and Australian schools.

My next question is: why does the Morrison government think it is fair for children attending public schools to never reach 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard as recommended by the Gonski review? Remember that was an economic review of education looking at boosting productivity. Minister, what educational resources do you suggest public schools should go without because they will never be fully funded? How do you expect to attract new teachers to public schools if they are starved of resources? We are already seeing that in electorates like mine on the edge of Brisbane; they still can't get enough teachers. I will repeat that: 'The SRS is the minimum amount of funding required to have students reach the minimum achievement benchmarks. When governments fail to reach this funding level, they fail the students of this country'. I look forward to your answers, and I know my colleague from South Australia does as well.

11:40 am

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Youth and Employment Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Young people are critical in our post-pandemic recovery and have every reason to feel optimistic as we emerge from the pandemic. The Morrison government's budget in 2021-22 outlines our plan to secure our recovery and rebuild our economy to support the essential services Australians rely on. In this jobs-led recovery more Australians are in work than ever before. More Australians are in work than before the pandemic. But we understand young people have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. That's why the budget investment is getting young people into employment, with the youth unemployment rate falling recently. It's not just getting young people into employment but also into training and education, and supporting their mental health is so significant.

In the 2021-22 budget, the government is investing a further $481.2 million in the Transition to Work employment service to ensure young Australians have the best opportunity to secure employment. Since 2016, under the coalition government, Transition to Work has helped more than 145,000 young Australians with assistance to move into work or education. This practical support—up to 12 months of intensive pre-employment support—means work experience, study and skills. It builds the confidence and work readiness for youth aged 15 to 24 at risk of long-term unemployment. These outcomes make a real difference, because time spent disengaged and not in employment, education or training increases the likelihood of long-term unemployment. That's not what we want for Australian youth. It can impact a young person's physical and mental health.

For more than 3.2 million young Australians, the most practical thing that we can do to support them is to give them access to improved educational outcomes, financial literacy and job opportunities that help build the success and independence they need. That is why the Morrison government has targeted budget measures to better educate young Australians, helping them find employment and supporting their mental health during this critical time. I do note some of the states too are rolling out financial literacy training as well, which is really important for youth.

The Morrison government is making it easier for young people to become apprentices. Businesses can claim a 12-month wage subsidy for new apprentices through the $2.7 billion in funding to extend and expand support for apprenticeship commencements. It's making it easier as well to get access to affordable or free training, and we are investing $500 million in the expansion of a JobTrainer fund to deliver around 163,000 additional low-fee or fee-free training places over two years. The states decide where that JobTrainer funding is spent. In my state of Queensland, most of it is being invested in TAFE. I have no problem with that. I went to TAFE myself. But they are completely missing the RTO sector in Queensland in relation to hospitality training because of their one-sided one-eyed view that TAFE is the only option. That doesn't help our youth.

The 2021-22 budget is also supporting youth engagement with $11.1 million in programs assisting young people, teachers and parents to foster a great sense of social cohesion, diversity and a sense of belonging. Together for Humanity and the Duke of Edinburgh are two examples. There's $1.2 million to co-sponsor the Young Australian of the Year awards. There's $1 million to strengthen civics and citizenship education. There's so much happening. Changes to JobSeeker and youth allowance are supporting participation, including increasing the income-free area of the JobSeeker and youth allowance payments to $150 per fortnight.

The Morrison government knows that the health of young people influences the further health and wellbeing of adults and the next generation. Young people are experiencing higher rates of mental ill-health and that's why we are investing millions of dollars in mental health, whether it's $280 million in the national headspace program or $13 million to support ReachOut for online youth mental health services or $26.9 million for treatment of eating disorders. So there's a lot happening.

I will just say as well, in relation to education—for the member opposite—it has gone up to 80 per cent and we are continuing to support our young people in this country.

Mr Perrett interjecting

It's going up, mate—80 per cent. Put that in your—

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Bean has the call.

11:46 am

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to frame some questions to the minister as part of this consideration in detail in relation to the higher education sector. Despite earlier speakers' views, my conversations with stakeholders and advocates in this sector affirm the view that this government has abandoned our university sector. Because of the decision to prevent universities getting JobKeeper and not providing appropriate support to the sector, despite the catastrophic consequence of COVID for revenue, at least 17,000 jobs at universities have been lost. Hundreds of those jobs have been lost here in Canberra across the Australian National University and the University of Canberra. We're talking about world-leading researchers, lecturers and tutors who have lost their jobs and many more that go to the everyday functioning of universities.

Last year, the government did provide extra funding for research due to the shortfall in international student revenue. However, months later, the borders are still closed, with no end in sight, because of this government's failure to manage quarantine facilities, and there's no further additional funding for universities. Instead, what do we have? I will quote from page 170 of Budget Paper No. 1:

Expenses under the higher education sub-function are expected to decrease by 8.3 per cent in real terms from 2020-21 to 2021-22, and decrease by 9.3 per cent in real terms from 2021-22 to 2024-25.

That means that, over the next four years, your government is ripping one dollar from every $10 out of the universities. Your government has made it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to university.

The cut to university funding is mainly from research but affects teaching as well. You can't gut our research funding, trash our academics, and then expect them to lead the world in commercialising their research. The government says: 'We want more young Australians studying STEM subjects. We want more people going into science as a career.' Because of this government, universities will receive 32 per cent less to teach medical students, 17 per cent less to teach maths students, 16 less to teach engineering students, 15 per cent less to teach clinical psychology students, 10 per cent less to teach agriculture students and eight per cent less to teach nurses. How do you come up with a mess like that while saying that you want to encourage people into these disciplines? When you cut the money that supports engineering and science courses, either you are going to get lower quality courses or you are going to have universities changing their offerings to students. You will get fewer scientists and fewer engineers from a failure to support these departments and faculties. You can't stem the brain-drain if you don't invest in STEM teaching and research. And we are talking about our kids graduating from university with debts of around $60,000 for a basic degree.

Further, as a consequence of the mismanagement of the vaccine rollout and quarantine, we still have no idea when international students will be able to safely return. The contribution of international students makes the university sector one of our top exports but they also play a critical role in our local economy. I've heard directly from the business chamber here and local businesses about labour and skill shortages that are directly affecting their bottom line. The budget really shows such a bad contrast between what the government says it wants and what it does in practice.

On average, under this budget, students will pay seven per cent more for their degrees—over a billion dollars more over the next four years—and 40 per cent of students will have had their fees more than doubled. Minister, because of the Prime Minister's decisions, universities are being forced to abolish and merge courses and cut faculties across the country in areas such as neuroscience, engineering, maths and Asian languages. These are areas that will be essential to Australia in coming years and decades. If we are to be serious about productivity in this country, these are areas that were highlighted by the Finkel brief to the COVID committee. My questions to you, Minister, are as follows. We don't want Australia to be like America, where kids have to get a lifetime of debt to get an education. Why does your government keep making decisions that take us down that path? Why does your government ignore the advice of our own COVID committee and not invest in science and research through our higher education sector?

11:50 am

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are over 12,000 children in Lindsay in child care and well over 30,000 attending school, and I'm passionate about making sure each and every one of them, as they go through school to further education, has the opportunity to be educated and trained in the jobs of the future, particularly in emerging industries such as science, mathematics, engineering, manufacturing and technology. We all want to make sure that the next generation have more opportunities than we've had, and that's why the Morrison government is investing a record $24.8 billion for all Australian schools next year. The Morrison government has a 10-year plan to once again put Australia among the top education nations in the world. By 2030 we want to lead the way in mathematics and science. In Western Sydney we are already working hard together collaboratively to achieve this.

Recently, the Minister for Education and Youth and I joined a passionate group of local principals who talked about their unique teaching experiences and how we could give our kids even more opportunities. We talked about how we could provide more support and work with our local educators to improve outcomes for students. It's important for me and my community of Lindsay to see how our national policies are making a positive impact in our local communities, and it was valuable to have such a robust discussion with these hardworking principals who care deeply about the education of their students. We know that the investment in Western Sydney international airport and aerotropolis will create over 11,000 jobs during construction and over 26,000 long-term jobs—jobs in STEM, industry, retail, hospitality, construction, manufacturing and so many more growing fields. That's why it's so important that we continue to invest in our kids, making sure they are equipped with the skills they will need to take on these challenges and propel Western Sydney into the future. The minister for education also joined me at The Lakes Christian College to officially open the new outdoor learning centre. The Morrison government invested $20,000 under the Local Schools Community Fund to create an outdoor learning area, and it was wonderful to see the kids enjoy this. We want to see more healthy active living for our students, and this upgrade means better spaces to get outdoors.

More than $30 million has been provided through the Local Schools Community Fund to support schools across Australia fund projects just like this and to make an impact on local kids, helping them have the high-quality facilities and equipment they need to reach their full potential. The Morrison government is investing record funding of $315.2 billion in all schools between 2018 and 2029 under the Quality Schools package. We don't just want high-quality schools; we also want our students to succeed. In 2020, 89.4 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds had attained a year 12 or a certificate III or above qualification, the highest result every received. Year 12 retention rates are also increasing, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. In Lindsay we have over 6,000 Indigenous people living in our community, and I want them to have the best opportunities at school.

Supporting local kids to get to school is so important. That's why I delivered $40,000 to the Cranbrook breakfast club to help with the purchase of a second van for their morning school run, which picks kids up from their homes and gets them to breakfast club and school. This extra vehicle means that the centre will be able to double the number of kids being picked up and dropped off at school. The tireless efforts of Joy, Bronwyn and the team at Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services make an incredible difference to the lives of these students, and I'm really proud to be supporting them. These are vulnerable kids who normally have a very low attendance rate, and attending this breakfast club is having a positive impact on their school attendance, which is so important.

Across Australia, year 12 attainment rates for students from low and medium socioeconomic backgrounds in remote areas are significantly lower. We know that there's more work to do to increase this, and that's why we are providing record school funding. The Morrison government is working together with the states and territories on their future funding needs, which will result in even more growth across the different levels of government. This will ensure the 30,000 students in Lindsay can reach their potential now and long into the future.

Can the minister please provide an update on how the Morrison government is investing in the education of Australian kids to boost standards and return Australia to the top group of education nations in the world?

11:56 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Following on from that dorothy dixer on steroids and the question from the member for Bean, the Morrison government has turned its back on universities during their hour of need. At the peak of the COVID pandemic, when universities were crying out for assistance, the Morrison government gave JobKeeper to private providers but changed the rules three times to exclude public universities. This has led to more than 17,000 jobs being lost, hundreds of courses being cut and regional campuses closing. We are talking about academics, tutors, admin staff and cleaners—everyone who keeps a university up and running. There are now 17,000 people without jobs, all with families and bills to pay. The Prime Minister could have prevented thousands of livelihoods from being destroyed but he callously and deliberately said no. A prime minister who cared about jobs would have prevented 17,000 uni workers from losing their livelihoods. A prime minister who cared about Australian families would have supported families relying on our wonderful universities so that they didn't lose their jobs.

Australian universities used to be this nation's third-biggest export earner. Those universities lost $3 billion last year. The recent Morrison budget made it worse for universities by including a 10 per cent real funding cut in coming years. Despite still being in a global pandemic, emergency funding to keep researchers in their jobs was cut off. It's very short-sighted to lose our world-class researchers. We've never appreciated them more than during this pandemic. Brian Schmidt, vice-chancellor of ANU, has raised concerns about losing research capacity in universities that will take decades to recover—when people go they don't come back.

With the rise of gas exports, education is now Australia's fourth-largest export earner. A government with vision would care about protecting fair dinkum exports like this, instead of just having photo ops with Boris and a Tim Tam. The Mitchell Institute's research indicates that a third academic year of no international students would cost Australia about $20 billion, or half of the pre-pandemic value of the sector. That $20 billion is enough, with $3 billion over, to cover the annual interest on the Frydenberg debt. This hit isn't just a problem for universities. The economic value of international students is far wider.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Youth and Employment Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member should refer to the Treasurer by his correct title.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, you're right, I mean the Treasurer's debt of $17 billion per year—I do take that interjection. To have $17 billion on the country's credit card is an incredible debt, and I take the member for Petrie's interjection very seriously.

To have a $20 billion hit to an industry like education is significant. The blame for this hit to the international student sector rests with the Morrison government. It is failing in its responsibility to set up successful quarantining facilities—horses and cows, yes; international students, no. Had it been done 12 months ago, international students would be back on campuses right now. There's no getting around it; it's the responsibility of the Morrison government, try as it might to pretend differently. Quarantine is a federal responsibility—it's in the Constitution. There was a perfectly reasonable proposal in Queensland to set up quarantining next to Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport. The facility could have been up and running in 12 weeks or less, but the Prime Minister has continued to dismiss it.

He came up with all sorts of excuses, including that planes had to go to Brisbane, even though his own plane had landed at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport. The Prime Minister said there was no hospital close by, but the Toowoomba Hospital was built in 1880. Ironically, back in 1916, around the time of the last pandemic, an open-air isolation ward was constructed at the Toowoomba Hospital for the care of those with infectious diseases. Neglecting quarantine facilities in the sunshine state is another slap in the face for Queensland universities. And doesn't it show how hopeless that team Queensland group is? They've been mute about this insult to and economic attack on Queenslanders, and every one of them should hang their head in shame. They should hang their heads in shame to call themselves 'team Queensland'. My questions are: Minister, why have universities been undermined during the pandemic? Will the Morrison government take the lead and provide appropriate quarantine facilities so international students can return to Australia, particularly to Queensland? Why has it taken so long for the Morrison government to provide quarantine facilities for international students to return? Why aren't they doing something proactively? Sadly, the coalition has demonstrated it's happy to sign students into debt but it won't do the correct thing to protect one of our great export earners.

12:01 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to seek further clarification from the minister for education regarding investment in our children's education. I want to start my comments by quoting the great Sir Robert Menzies, who in addressing a Parents and Citizens Association conference in 1964 said:

Our great function when we approach the problem of education is to equalise opportunity to see that every boy and girl has a chance to develop whatever faculties he or she may have, because this will be a tremendous contribution to the good life for the nation.

I'd like to commend the minister for education and the work that he is doing to back in this great Menzian tradition, in particular when I talk about early childhood education. As a paediatrician and a mother of four, I was absolutely delighted that the minister for education came to my electorate of Higgins to make the announcement about $2 billion of funding over the next four years for this very purpose. He came to the Estrella Preschool in my electorate of Higgins to make this very, very important announcement. We all know that these significant reforms will help make Australian children better prepared for their first year of school. As a mum and as a paediatrician, I know how important those first 1,000 days of life are, not just for the health and wellbeing of children but for their brain development. We know that those early years are so important for getting right the approach that they have to school; their openness, their curiosity, their excitement about the challenges of education are so incredibly important. We know that preparing our children well for the first year of school life means that they're better prepared for their educational future, and that means our nation is better prepared for the future with regard to these children going on to have jobs.

The Morrison government is unlocking $2 billion of opportunity because it's so important that this sector has a process going forward that's going to enable it to have guaranteed funding for all stages of education in Australia. There are three aspects of this new reform and funding that are incredibly important. The first is that the $1,340 per child is given regardless of whether they attend kinder, preschool or a preschool program in a centre based day care. That provides opportunity and choice, so that families are in control of what they do to provide education for their children. I really welcome this, and this has already been rolled out in my home state of Victoria with great success. The second aspect that's very important is participation. The current universal access national partnership gives children access to 600 hours per year. That is already benefitting 350,000 children. What this new program is doing is giving, in the forward estimates, four years of funding, so for the first time in our history the Commonwealth is funding preschools in forward estimates, not just on an annual basis. This is incredibly important for the sector. It means that there will be 12,000 preschool services that will benefit. While we've seen the number of eligible children enrolled in preschool increase from 12 per cent in 2008 to 96 per cent in 2019, only 72 per cent of children make full use of the available hours. What is really important about this new reform is that the Commonwealth will work with states and territories to develop and implement these preschool outcome measures to ensure that we have excellent attendance. This is based on children in places not only where they have advantage but also where perhaps they're less well advantaged. We know, for instance, that attendance rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are only 60 per cent, and disadvantaged children have an attendance rate of only 66 per cent. We know from Closing the Gap that this is an incredibly important target that we need to work on with the states and territories, to ensure that we close the gap not only for Indigenous families and children but also for those less advantaged.

Commonwealth funding for preschools will grow from $453 million in 2021-22 to $520 million in 2024-25. Will the minister please update us on how the Morrison government is investing in Australian children and their education, including for kids in my electorate, so that we can make sure that education is a force for good, a force for equity and a force for change?

12:06 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Early childhood education and care should be a fundamental building block of Australia's economic and social success. It should be recognised as a springboard that enables all children to reach their potential. Sadly, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's lack of investment in the crucial early years is failing our children in the education system. We know the first five years of children's learning are vital to their development. They set our children up for life. Under this government we've seen Australia's reading, maths and science scores plummet on the world stage. The OECD results confirm this. We're on track to have some of the worst scores in the developed world, threatening Australia's status as an economic powerhouse. We need to invest in our early-years education to ensure our children are prepared when they enter primary school. Unfortunately, that is not how this complacent government sees early-years education.

This government likes to talk a big game when it comes to child care. When it launched its so-called once-in-a-generation child care reforms in 2018 it claimed families had never had it better. Two new education ministers, a change of prime minister and 2½ years later the verdict is in: the system is not delivering for Australian families. It is not investing in our children's futures, nor is it delivering for the hardworking, female dominated workforce that makes up this sector.

In my electorate of Corangamite, childcare costs have risen substantially over the last 12 months. In some areas of my electorate, childcare costs have risen by up to 21.5 per cent. That would equate to the cost of child care doubling every 3½ years. The result is a system that is way too expensive for many families. For many families it means facing the impossible decision over whether to return to work or stay at home and look after children. Instead of working full time, a parent—generally the mother—will often work only three days or not at all thanks to the current cost of child care. This is a federal responsibility. The government is choosing to underfund child care and not to fund three-year-old kindergarten across the nation. It's shameful, and so is the Morrison government's half-baked plan that won't come into effect until 2022. Families need real help now.

The scope of the Morrison government's plan is too limited and does not include out-of-school-hours and vacation care. What is most frustrating is there's nothing in the plan to put an end to the soaring childcare fees. On the other hand, Labor have a comprehensive plan. We have a real vision that will actually help families. We will scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap, which often sees women losing money from an extra day's work. We will fix the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent and we will increase childcare subsidy rates and taper them for every family earning less than half a million dollars a year. Labor's policy will benefit one million Australian families. In contrast, the coalition's plan will benefit only about 250,000 families. Labor's childcare plan will pump about three times as much extra funding into the system. The data backs it up. The McKell Institute estimates that the subsidy boost would deliver a return on investment of at least 100 per cent.

It is evident that Labor's plan is a greater investment that will result in a greater reward. The one thing this tired government really doesn't seem to grasp is that early education is an investment that delivers massive returns, so today my question to the minister is simple: how much is it going to cost Australia later on to overcome this government's failure to invest today?

12:10 pm

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I start by saying what a pleasure it is to get a question on education from the opposition, because we haven't had one in the main chamber since 11 November last year. I welcome the questions from the other side of the Chamber and certainly welcome the questions from my side of the Chamber also.

I'd like to address a few points in the time I have available. Firstly, let me address the issue in relation to school funding, a very precise question phrased by the member for Moreton. We have increased funding to public schools by 100 per cent since coming to office. It's a doubling of funding.

Mr Perrett interjecting

I'll take that interjection. The member for Moreton just said that of course there's been some population increase. The per capita funding in government schools since we came to office has increased 80 per cent in those eight years. That is a very significant per capita increase to government school funding in anyone's book.

I also know that the member is concerned, quite rightly, about disadvantaged students, including Indigenous students. The model that we have put in place, agreed to by every state and territory minister, including the Queensland government minister, has specific loadings for Indigenous students and disadvantaged students. Those loadings can sometimes end up doubling the overall funding that a student might attract at a particular school—a government school or, indeed, a non-government school—which is exactly as it should be. So, far from failing government schools, we have been the best friend ever to government schools.

I'd also like to address a key theme which has arisen in relation to the university sector. I take the points which members have raised. They say—and I quote them—that we have 'abandoned the university sector'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Right now there is $20.4 billion worth of funding, in direct funding and in HELP loan funding, going to the university sector—a record amount. There are a record number of students at our universities right now. Sixty per cent of those students, under our Job-ready Graduates Package, are paying either the same fees or lower fees. They're paying lower fees particularly in those courses where we need more people, because that's where the jobs are going to be in the future. Of course, in the budget last October we provided an additional $1.5 billion to our public universities—a billion dollars in extra research funding and half a billion dollars in additional courses. So to address the precise points that the opposition have been raising I'd just say: that is absolutely wrong. The universities make a very important contribution to our society in educating our students and in delivering research.

In the same context, the question was also raised as to what the borders being closed to international students means for our universities. Thankfully, the impact to date has not been as great as many anticipated. In fact, when you look at the aggregate enrolments of international students today versus those in 2019, prepandemic, they are down only 13 per cent. International students constitute about 27 per cent of all university revenue. That means that, to date, aggregate revenue is down only three per cent from international students and the borders being closed. We're going to watch that, but three per cent down is not anywhere near some of the very significant declines that we may have been anticipating earlier. The opposition constantly says that they should have got JobKeeper. Can I point out again to the opposition that in order to be eligible for JobKeeper you had to have a 30 per cent decline in revenues and, if you're a large organisation of a billion dollars in revenue or more, you had to have a 50 per cent decline in revenue. Three per cent doesn't get anywhere close.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

12:16 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great honour for me to be able to speak about the government's budget this year, which forms the expenditure in the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, and to reiterate what I think we've been speaking about in this place for nearly 18 months now, and that is the extraordinary economic outcomes that Australia has been able to achieve under the stewardship of the Morrison government.

We did a number of years of hard work to ensure that the Australian budget was able to get back into broad balance. That then ensured we had the fiscal fire power that the economy needed to commit $291 billion, nearly 15 per cent of GDP, in direct economic support for individuals, for households and for businesses throughout our country at the height of the pandemic.

It's quite remarkable, particularly when you consider comparable economies around the world, that there are now more people in work than there were when the pandemic hit, and that does not happen by accident. That has happened due to the economic stewardship led by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to support businesses to support individuals, and now we're seeing the fruits of that support. What Australians saw in the budget was a budget that consolidated those gains, that kept our foot on the economic accelerator to ensure we could lock in those gains and move forward.

At the centrepiece of this year's budget, which Australians are seeing as characteristic of the Morrison government, we saw tax relief. We saw that more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners will enjoy a tax cut. For single income families with the low- and middle-income tax offset that's $1,080 in savings, and for dual income families that's $2,160. This, in the end, puts more money in Australians' pockets. It enhances aggregate demand, and we're very keen to see the fruits of that tax relief very soon.

What we've also seen throughout the pandemic, going back to emergency measures put in place last year, is the benefits of temporary full expensing, and we saw that they were extended in the budget. What temporary full expensing has done, and I think every member in this place, even members opposite begrudgingly would need to admit, is the order books of the country are being filled, and every single Australian based manufacturer or business will tell you that. This measure supports 99 per cent of businesses with a turnover threshold of $5 billion, ensuring that it covers some 11½ million employees. So there are 11½ million Australians working in businesses where temporary full expensing is ensuring that their customers are demanding their products, and that is one of the reasons why we can now say again that we have more Australians in work today than at the beginning of the pandemic.

In the budget we've also put in place a number of measures to enhance homeownership. We obviously did an incredible job during the pandemic in turning around the quite frightening situation for the residential construction industry, with over half a billion jobs being at risk. The HomeBuilder program led to the industry being at least 32½ per cent busier than they were at the beginning of the pandemic, so we've not only protected those jobs but we've grown those jobs.

We have built on that as well in the budget with the Family Home Guarantee, which will support single-parent families to purchase a home with a deposit of as little as two per cent. We've increased First Home Super Saver Scheme contributions from $30,000 to $50,000, again helping first home buyers with the most critical aspect of making that purchase—getting a deposit together. We have put in place the JobTrainer Fund, which is providing 163,000 new job-training places. Then there is the patent box. This has not been significantly remarked upon in the media, but I think it's going to drive huge economic advances in this country. There's $110 billion for infrastructure and $1.7 billion to enhance child care. This budget locks in those gains, keeps our foot on the economic accelerator and gets more Australians into jobs. (Time expired)

12:21 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I have two questions I'd like to ask the Minister for Housing. The first question is about land supply. In 2017 the minister promised to release surplus Commonwealth land for housing development. The 2017 budget documents state, 'The government is committed to making underutilised and surplus Commonwealth land available for housing.' That statement was made in budget papers that are now four years old. My question to the minister is: has any surplus Commonwealth land been released for housing since that promise was made four years ago and, if so, how much?

My second question to the minister is about the Family Home Guarantee. My question is: will you commit today to lift the price cap for this scheme? No answer there. This was exposed as a problem in the Launceston Examiner three weeks ago—

Mr Sukkar interjecting

Well, I'm asking you a question. You're the minister. Are you going to answer the question? I'm going to give you a bit more detail and then I hope that you'll give me an answer.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members and Minister, we don't debate the process across the chamber. The member has five minutes. The minister will have a chance to answer the question.

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I asked the minister about this when we debated this legislation in the parliament recently and all I got was him with his head down, pretending I wasn't there. I asked him: is there a 10,000 hard cap on this scheme? There was no answer. I didn't get an answer in estimates about that either. Maybe you will give an answer to that as well. Is it a demand driven scheme or is it a hard cap? I don't get an answer on that.

Will you lift the price cap for this scheme to make it work? It will be interesting to see if we get an answer on that today as well, because it was revealed in the Launceston Examiner three weeks ago that, if you're a single parent in Launceston with a couple of kids looking to use this scheme to buy a three-bedroom house, there's not much you can buy. I checked on today and there are four places in Launceston, so there are only four places you can buy if you're a single parent looking to use that scheme to purchase property there.

I asked the minister in the debate in parliament if he would lift the cap. That seems to be the obvious thing you need to do there to make sure that people in Launceston can access this scheme. I didn't get a response from him, but I did get a response from the member for Bowman. In speaking in the debate after me, he said, 'If you can't find a place in Launceston then get in the car and drive until you can find somewhere under $300,000.' Is that really the government's policy? Is that really what we're telling people—'If you can't find a place where you live at the moment, where your job is and where your family is, you should just move'? Surely not. The simple easy way to fix this is to lift that cap.

One of the places in Launceston that's for sale under $300,000 has an ad that says 'renovate or detonate'. It doesn't have walls. But the government is saying this is a scheme for single parents with kids.

And it's not just Launceston. I had a look on the internet today; in Nelson Bay, just north of Newcastle, the cap is $450,000. How many three-bedroom homes do you think there are under that price in Nelson Bay? The answer is none. The answer's the same in Byron Bay. There's not one three-bedroom home there under the cap that the government has set. It's the same in Coffs Harbour; there are zero places there. It's the same in Moruya on the south coast; zero three-bedroom homes that you can buy under the cap. It's the same in Narooma. In Bega, there's one place. In Ballina, there are two. It's not just the east coast of Australia; it's the same on the west coast. In Karratha over in WA there is only one. It's the same in Port Hedland; only one three-bedroom home that you can buy under the cap that the government has set for this scheme.

They're just a couple of examples. It's obvious that price caps are way out of whack with the cost of housing in Australia. It's also obvious what the solution is: lift the cap. I'm sure the minister knows this. I'm sure the member for Bass knows it. I'm sure they're having private conversations about how to fix this mess. It's simple; raise the cap. So I ask you to make a commitment today to raise the cap. (Time expired)

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Was the minister seeking to answer?

Honourable members interjecting

I'm assuming the minister was seeking to answer the questions earlier. Is that correct?

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

If he said it in his time, I was very willing to. But I'm not going to deprive—

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In that case, I'm just going to say to all present that I'm finding it very hard to hear people with the constant conversation backwards and forwards. I'm giving the call to the member for Fisher.

12:26 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to acknowledge that the member for Moncrieff is allowing me to jump in; I thank him very much. Budgets can be a time when political discourse is in most danger of becoming separated from the real on-the-ground consequences of the work that we do here. Try as we might on this side of the chamber, the reporting of budgets is all too often about telephone-number-sized figures, percentages and complicated acronyms. However, at its heart the 2021 federal budget is about real outcomes for people in our communities that are going to result directly from the Morrison government's actions, and that is what I would like to ask the Assistant Treasurer about.

A great budget like this one means a strong economic recovery, and a strong economic recovery means more opportunities and greater prosperity for everyone in regions like mine, the good seat of Fisher. So I ask: will the minister inform the chamber of how the Morrison government's plan to secure our economic recovery is ensuring that Australia leads the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Last year in Fisher, we saw the significant and instant impact that the Morrison government's investments can have. As the Assistant Treasurer knows, the construction industry is central to the Sunshine Coast's prosperity—an industry that I have been involved with for the last 30 years. Last year, as the COVID-19 crisis began to be felt, builders in my community came to me and said that from August they had no future work. An industry generating $6.1 billion in our region and employing some 20,000 Sunshine Coast locals was about to be shut down almost overnight. I reached out to the Assistant Treasurer and I supported him in putting together a Morrison government investment which would make a real difference to tens of thousands of people in my electorate. The HomeBuilder program that resulted is a perfect example of what this government has been able to deliver through a strong economic response to this pandemic.

Those on the opposite side all said it would never work, didn't they? The impact was tangible and immediate. Builders who had come to me saying that they had no work found themselves quickly receiving more new inquiries than they had ever before. Hundreds of new lots were opened up for homes at the Aura and Harmony developments, and people even camped out overnight to try and snap them up. Nationwide, this past financial year will end up producing a record of 137,170 starts of detached homes, an increase of 34.2 per cent on the previous year. But 'it will never work' apparently. HomeBuilder is supporting $30 billion worth of construction work, saving thousands of jobs in my community, and its effects will be felt in the back pockets of Sunshine Coast locals for many months, if not years, to come. I ask the Assistant Treasurer: what will the tangible outcomes for ordinary Australians resulting from HomeBuilder be?

Unlike the Queensland Labor state government, which yesterday yet again handed down a budget which included precisely no new investment for infrastructure on the Sunshine Coast, the Morrison government understands that building a strong economic recovery involves investing in new road and rail projects. Investing in road and rail projects creates hundreds of local jobs in construction in the short term for Sunshine Coast workers, who spend money in local businesses. In the longer term, it improves our region's economy by helping locals to move around more quickly and safely, and by providing a more attractive experience for our many tourists.

Once again, while the Queensland state Labor government does nothing, and pats itself on the back for it, the Morrison government's federal budget will have real positive consequences for working Australians on the Sunshine Coast. This federal government's budget made $15.2 billion in additional infrastructure commitments this year, supporting an extra 30,000 jobs across the lives of those projects. On the Sunshine Coast, this included $160 million for phases 1 and 2 of the Mooloolah River interchange to deal once and for all with an intersection which has become a total deathtrap. It includes $7 million for the Caloundra transport corridor upgrade, extending Third Avenue to Nicklin Way and finally taking pressure off the Nicklin Way/Caloundra Road roundabout. This year the Morrison government also invested $5 million for a study into the next duplication of the North Coast rail. What do all these projects have in common? The one thing they have in common is that they are state government projects, yet we in the federal government are continually tapped—'Please, Sir, can you give us some money?' How about the Labor government put money into their projects.

12:32 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

My questions are to the Minister representing the Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy. First, some background. In the lead-up to the last election, the government promised to leave the superannuation guarantee levy alone. In fact, the Prime Minister was adamant that he wanted to see more of workers' super going into workers' superannuation accounts, and he was on the record saying that very, very clearly. He then spent the next 18 months campaigning against his own election promise. As so often is the case with this Prime Minister, he says one thing and he does another. He makes a big announcement but he doesn't follow through. This time he made an announcement and then spent the next 18 months campaigning against his own announcement not to cut workers' superannuation. So it was with some relief that we saw in this budget that the government has left the superannuation guarantee levy alone for now—although members of their own backbench are campaigning against their government's own budget, which agreed to implement the government's own pre-election commitment.

We learnt over the last 48 hours that there are some unscrupulous large businesses in this country that are refusing to pass on those superannuation guarantee levy payments to their workers without demanding a wage cut from their workers. This is unconscionable. My question to the minister representing the minister for superannuation and the government in this chamber is: does he support these big businesses doing that? Does the government support big businesses cutting workers' wages to implement the superannuation guarantee levy? That is what they are threatening to do, and they should be condemned for doing it. This government and this minister should stand up today, use the opportunity and the forum that he has in this chamber today, to condemn those big businesses for doing that.

I want to remind the House that these are workers that have supported the Australian economy through some of its darkest days. These are workers who have not seen a real wage increase in over 10 years under this government. Real wages are going backwards with no plan in this budget for real wages to go forward. But, worse than that, some of these big businesses are threatening the unconscionable—to slash workers' wages to implement the superannuation guarantee levy rise. The government has a choice: do they back the big businesses or do they back the workers? It's a fairly simple question to answer. Whose side are you on? Labor is on the side of the workers.

Mr Sukkar interjecting

I understand by the noise that is being made by the minister that he doth protest much. He has the opportunity to jump up right now and say, 'I am on the side of the workers, not on the side of big business,' but he's not. He won't do that because secretly they're cheering them on. Secretly, they are cheering on big businesses to slash their workers' wages to pay for superannuation. I want to remind all of those workers that this is a minister who is pulling in 15.4 per cent himself but saying to the workers, 'Nine and a half per cent is enough for you, and if the superannuation guarantee levy goes up you're going to get a wage cut as a result.' I mean, is this the best the government can do after 10 years? After 10 years of wages being frozen, at the first opportunity the workers have to get ahead, they say: 'It's going to cost you. You're going to cop it in the neck.' It's a very simple proposition: are you on the side of big business or on the side of workers? I want to hear from the minister on this one. I want to hear whose side he is on. He's got the opportunity in a few minutes to stand up and say which side he is on. Will he make a clear statement, on behalf of the government, to condemn the threats that are being made by big business today to go after workers' wages so as to pass on the lawfully implemented superannuation guarantee levy?

There are a range of other measures before the House today that, if we get the time, I would like to ask the minister about. But this is a very important issue, so I'll actually sit down early to give the minister the opportunity to stand up now and say, quite clearly: 'I'm on the side of the workers. I condemn what big business are threatening to do.'

12:36 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for the extra time in the chamber. I, for one, am proud, as a government member, to stand and speak about the budget measures from the Morrison government that are securing Australia's economic recovery. I say to Australians who may be listening that we on this side of the chamber have a plan. We have a plan to deliver more jobs and to rebuild our economy. We have a plan to set the country up for a very bright future.

Since the pandemic struck at the very beginning of last year, the Morrison government has provided $291 billion in direct economic support to keep businesses in business and Australians in jobs. I say to those opposite: JobKeeper was a key plank of the last budget. Without that support, for 10,400 small businesses in the Moncrieff electorate alone, we would not be in the positive and confident position that we are in as our economy moves forward. It's certainly kept the doors open on the Gold Coast, so I thank the federal government. My constituents and small businesses in Moncrieff thank the federal government, all 32,000 of them that have been supported—10,400 of them on JobKeeper alone. There is still much work to do. The pandemic is not over yet and we must not let our guard down. We must keep working and keep supporting our recovery, and that's why these 2021-22 budget measures are so important.

I want to talk about just a few areas of the budget. Firstly, as promised by the Treasurer, more than 10 million Australians, over 71,400 of them individuals in my electorate, will this year receive $1,080, for singles, or $2,160, for couples. That helps with the bills. This money—about $75 million will go back into my electorate alone—will be spent in coffee shops; it will be spent in restaurants and tourist attractions; it will be spent in hotels. It will go to school fees for families; it will go to sports fees; it will go to car maintenance and to bus fares. It will help create the economic environment that creates more jobs. That's what the Morrison government is about: more jobs and more support for the economy to create a strong future for all of us.

Another area I want to talk about is business tax cuts and incentives, which are so important on the Gold Coast, the home of the entrepreneurial spirit. Business owners need only wait less than a month for their permanent tax cut on 1 July, which will take the corporate tax rate down to 25 per cent. And all of that helps in our economy, especially on the Gold Coast.

In addition, the instant asset write-off or temporary full-expensing measure will now be extended—again, it's music to our ears in Moncrieff. What we are seeing now in the economy is the outcome of this measure from last year's budget—that is, business owners are investing back into their own businesses. They are buying cars, they are buying coffee machines, and they are buying plant and equipment for their manufacturing businesses and their small businesses. As result of last year's budget we are seeing record investment back into small business, not seen for seven years. That's a great outcome for the engine room of our economy that is small and family business. The proof is in the pudding, and that proof is that more Australians are in jobs today than when the pandemic hit. That is an outstanding result and something to be very positive about moving forward.

The loss carry-back measure will support those businesses that may not have been profitable this year, and it will allow companies with a turnover of up to $5 billion to offset losses for the 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 income years against previously taxed profits from 2018-19 or subsequent years and generate a refund. That's 11,900 businesses in Moncrieff. Multiply that around the country and how many businesses is that? I see those on the other side are a little bit bored with my speech because they don't get small business. They don't understand that 11,900 businesses in Moncrieff can now have the opportunity for that loss carry-back that keeps Australians—and Gold Coasters—in jobs. I'm absolutely thrilled about that. It's a great opportunity for Australia.

This is a time when we are rebuilding our economy. The Morrison government stands behind business, we stand behind income tax cuts for individuals across the country and we stand behind our Treasurer. How are these Morrison government investment incentives and tax cuts backing Australian business to drive our continued economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and is the Treasurer aware of any alternative approaches? (Time expired)

12:42 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Even with all the weeks to prepare for consideration in detail, the best question asked then was, 'Are you aware of any alternative approaches?' Honestly, you do a disservice to this process.

The Morrison government can run but it cannot hide from the numbers. Australian women earn less than men in any job. So my first question to the minister is: what is your plan to fix that? This Morrison budget glossy is full of buzzwords without any substance. It's not a budget even trying to fix the systemic inequality faced by Australian women. It is a budget for political recovery, not for pandemic recovery. Half of one per cent of this $589 billion budget, or $3.4 billion, is going towards women's economic security.

Gender Equity Victoria conducted analysis comparing how the federal budget's investment in women measures up in comparison to some of the other big-ticket items that it announced. Specific funding for endometriosis is $5 million, but the gaming industry receives $20 million in tax breaks. There is $29.3 million set aside to improve migrant and refugee women's safety over the next three years, but $464 million is being sprayed around to bolster immigration detention. There is $57.6 million being set aside for family violence services for First Nations women—that's terrific, but $474 million is being spent upgrading military training facilities, all in the Northern Territory. From those numbers it is pretty clear how much the Morrison government actually cares about women's economic security—it doesn't. There is little support for women working in traditionally female dominated, undervalued care sectors like aged care, child care and retail. You can throw as much unconditional money as you like at aged-care facilities, but you are not going to fix aged care if you are not fixing the systemic workforce issues in that industry. If you have a female dominated workforce that is underpaid, underappreciated and overworked, you will not fix aged care, no matter how many billions you throw at private centres to do so without any strings attached.

We agree that new skills spending is good, but skills do not create jobs, they do not boost wages and they do not improve existing works conditions. Poor wage growth hurts everybody, including workers and small-business owners, but it hurts women the most, because 65 per cent of all jobs undertaken by women are in low- and middle-income service industries like hospitality, retail, health care and social services. This inequity is only further widened by the gender pay gap, which is currently at 31 per cent and only getting wider as the prevalence of insecure work continues to grow.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection. It's the lowest possible figure you can use, not factoring in casual work, part-time work or time taken over the course of a lifetime. It's 31 per cent when you are realistic about the kinds of systemic discrimination and time off that women take in the workforce. This budget offers no substantial change to policy settings that block women's economic security. So my question to the minister is: why not?

In terms of addressing parity in retirement incomes, yes, the budget abolished the $450 a month earnings threshold for super, which will predominantly benefit women in low-paid casual work. Great. But, with one in three women retiring with no superannuation at all and the average super balance of women being roughly half that of their male counterparts, this measure is small; it is insufficient. It is just a drop in the ocean. Perhaps some of the $29.5 billion in tax concessions handed out each year to boost male super could instead be used to pay super on paid parental leave. As economist Alison Pennington put it, 'Pink-washing' the budget 'cannot hide the powerful disequalising forces that this government has set in motion.'

This budget cements rising inequality in the structure of our post-COVID recovery. The short-sighted, insincere, PR focused policy decisions being made by the Morrison government today, being defended in this chamber today, will affect Australian women for generations to come. So my question to the minister is: what is the Morrison government doing to improve the quality of work, the pay and the conditions for undervalued women working in our care economy? Further, my question to the minister is: will the Morrison government support Labor's policy to strengthen the ability and the capacity of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in low-paid, female dominated industries? Until we have answers to those questions, I don't see how Australian women can rely upon this Morrison government at all.

12:47 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to speak in consideration in detail on the budget. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, this government has understood it and dealt with it on two fronts: as a health crisis and as an economic crisis. It has been and continues to be an extraordinary challenge for all of us, all around the world. It has been testing our health systems and our economies, and it's been testing us all individually and collectively. There's no hiding from the fact that our response to COVID-19 has come at significant fiscal cost and that net debt is anticipated to grow to 40.9 per cent of GDP by June 2025. The dollars involved are enormous and, again, there is no hiding from the fact that it's going to impact on all of us for a long time. But, as the Treasurer said in his budget speech last month, the 2021-22 budget is one designed to secure Australia's economic recovery. It is a budget which is focused both on the here and now, and the future. A lot of money is being spent, but it is being spent in direct and targeted ways. This budget and the economic plan which underpins it will continue to create the right environment for the creation of more jobs, more innovation, more investment and greater confidence, all of which are needed to ensure we continue to deliver essential services and to rebuild our country.

As I suspect many in this chamber do, I have vivid recollections of March and April last year, when we were all leaping into the unknown. I recall speaking with local business owners in my electorate whose anxiety was understandably at peak levels. They were being required to shut down their operations for a significant period of time—in fact, they didn't know for how long. The overwhelming majority of them then had to make significant changes to the way they operated so they at least could be doing something and getting some money in. Many of those same business owners still come up to me now and tell me that the introduction of JobKeeper was not only their financial lifeline; it was also their morale and wellbeing lifeline. While they remained stressed, JobKeeper gave them sufficient comfort and confidence to keep going. It eased the level of their anxieties. During COVID last year, over 9,000 businesses in Curtin accessed JobKeeper, and 24,000 people were supported by this mechanism to stay in work.

About 6,600 businesses also benefited from the tax-free cash flow boost, which again was a key factor in helping to ease anxiety and bolster confidence. The range of things that this was spent on by businesses has been extraordinary, and I've gone and visited many of my local businesses to see what they did with it: updating old kitchens, replacing out-of-life equipment, putting in new technology. It's been used across the length and breadth of the businesses in my area, and this budget continues to deliver benefits to those businesses in my electorate. More than 25,000 businesses will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset they purchase and around 12,000 businesses will be able to use the extended carry-back measure to support cash flow and again build their confidence. Despite being severely impacted by the pandemic—and let's face it, in WA, where we get shut down if somebody sneezes, they are still very stressed about how to run their businesses in these times—the measures that we're putting in place will give them confidence to keep going, not to simply shut up shop and walk away for the fear of the unknown and being shut down again. The local business owners have told me directly that they've been given the confidence to back themselves and back their businesses.

Of course, this budget is also supporting individuals. We've got the tax relief measures, which the member for Moncrieff described. Again, about 52,400 taxpayers in Curtin are going to benefit from those particular tax relief measures. There are other things supporting individuals: childcare changes, more listings on the PBS, extensions to telehealth, more funding for mental health and aged care. All of these measures have a direct impact on people in my electorate. As the Assistant Treasurer well knows, the people in my area, like many Australians all across the country, are aspirational and, if they don't already do so, many of them want to own their own home. In many ways this yearning for owning your own home has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on us, so my question for the minister is to inform us how the government is backing Australian jobs through our economic— (Time expired)

12:52 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians are facing a perfect storm when it comes to their insurance premiums. The cumulative effect of climate change and COVID has led to dramatic increases in the cost of almost all forms of insurance in Australia. It's the cost of climate inaction. That's the cost of this government's lack of action on climate change manifesting itself in an increase in everyone's insurance premiums. So when this government says that there's no cost to its policies on climate change, it's wrong. You're all paying for it through your insurance premium and it's only going to get worse. In many regions throughout Australia insurance has now become completely unaffordable, particularly in the north of Australia. In the member for Eden-Monaro's electorate, you can't get insurance for bushfire coverage any more. In the Hawkesbury floodplain in New South Wales, on the Central Coast, in Bundaberg in Queensland, in Tasmania—in basically every state in Australia—there are regions where, because of the risk associated with climate change, it's now impossible to get insurance and it's going to get worse.

The government recently announced their northern Australia reinsurance pool. It's a $10 billion guarantee that they say will drive down premiums. My question to the government is: why has it taken eight years to take some action for the people of the north of Australia? They've been crying out for some action for the past eight years, and this government has done nothing. There have been numerous studies—three ACCC reports, a Productivity Commission report, a Small Business Ombudsman report—but all of their recommendations have been ignored. Every single one of those recommendations has been ignored, and they've made this announcement about the reassurance pool for which there is very little detail. Now the people of northern Australia are starting to say, as many people are saying about many things with this government: 'We think that they're all talk and no action. This isn't what it's cracked up to be.' The day after the announcement was made, my office received a phone call from a small business on the Central Coast, and that small businessperson on the Central Coast said, 'We face the risk of flooding here on a daily basis, on the Central Coast, and my business is now facing the prospect of not being able to afford insurance.' The question they asked us was: 'Will this reinsurance pool be extended to other regions where insurance is now unaffordable,' and that is my question to the minister. Will the reinsurance apply to the Central Coast, to Eden-Monaro and to other electorates throughout the country where insurance is now affordable? My second question is: when will this reinsurance pool come into effect? The government's announcement says that it will be on 1 July 2022. But government officials in estimates started to crab walk away from that commitment. It means that the residents of northern Australia could be waiting for many, many years longer before they get any relief from their skyrocketing insurance premiums. The people of northern Australia, given that they've been waiting for so long for action on this by this government, deserve a better answer.

The Morrison government says that it hopes that the northern Australia reinsurance pool will reduce premiums. The government is estimating that it will be $1.5 billion for household strata and small businesses north of the Tropic of Capricorn over 10 years. That equates to about 10 per cent. Let me tell you: if you're trying to insure your home and contents and the premium is about $9,000, I don't think 10 per cent is going to cut it. I don't think you're going to dispel that anger up there with a 10 per cent reduction on a big announcement like this that they've been saying would be the saviour to their issues. Where is the detailed policy work that you're supposed to do in government? The second issue is that the government says that this will be cost neutral over many years. So my question to the government is: if it is cost neutral, will this be paid for by a levy on the rest of the insurance holders throughout the country? Is the rest of Australia going to pay for this reinsurance pool? The third element is building in risky areas—in areas where there are floodplains and there is a known risk. What incentives are built into this scheme to ensure that people aren't encouraged to just build in risky areas because they've got the comfort of the reinsurance pool? Will there be incentives, like those outlined in the ACCC report, for new building standards around resilience—for a voluntary resilience register for insurers? Will any of these incentives be built into the scheme? (Time expired)

12:57 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank everyone that's participated in today's CID, particularly the members for Fisher, Moncrieff and Curtin. What we've heard today—in particular, through questions from the member for Moncrieff—is in relation to small businesses and how we're supporting them. From 1 July small businesses in Australia will have a tax rate of 25 per cent—a significant achievement for small businesses throughout this country. This builds on the temporary full expensing that we put in place during the pandemic; the tax loss carry-back, which injects funds into businesses really quickly rather than having them wait years in some cases to recover those tax losses; and the patent box, which we announced in the budget. These are all measures to support businesses in Australia to invest, and, as I said in my initial remarks, we saw that lead to an unemployment rate of 5½ per cent. There are more people in jobs now than there were at the beginning of the pandemic.

I want to thank the member for Fisher for his great advocacy and support for the residential construction industry. He asked questions about how we continue to support them. We announced in the budget an additional 10,000 new home guarantees, a subset of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, which encourages first homebuyers who want to purchase a home with a five per cent deposit guaranteed by the government and leads them to purchasing new homes, which, again, supports the residential construction industry. There were 500,000 jobs supported through HomeBuilder. Those jobs continue to be supported through the new home guarantee.

The member for Curtin asked questions about first home ownership. In extraordinary times we've seen first homebuyers at 155,000 to March—a 55 per cent increase on the long-term average. We see the number of first homebuyers at its highest level in nearly 15 years. The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, which we put in place before the pandemic, has supported thousands of first homebuyers. We will continue to do so, with another 20,000 places released on 1 July—10,000 in the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and 10,000 in the New Home Guarantee. We announced a new program—the Family Home Guarantee, which supports single parents to purchase a home with a deposit of as little as two per cent. Some of them will be first home buyers. Many of them will be purchasing a home again, having perhaps lost a home in a family separation.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. The fact that the Australian economy is the envy of the world isn't an accident; it's because of the policies we've put in place. We'll continue to do so.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 13:00 to 16:00

3:59 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The budget investment in the Home Affairs portfolio underscores our belief that a safer Australia is a stronger Australia. Our first priority is the safety and security of every Australian. We know that continued vigilance and an emphasis on national security is what will underpin economic growth following the pandemic.

Australia is a safe place to live and work. It's one of our strengths as we lead the world in post-COVID recovery, but we can't take anything for granted. That's why the 2021-22 budget provides an extra $2 billion to build an even more secure and resilient nation. This funding will boost national security, maintain our strong borders, improve emergency management, make our community safer and help protect our children from the monstrous crime of sexual exploitation. Other speakers in this debate will go into further detail on these.

With record funding for our national security agencies we will be better able to combat threats of terrorism, espionage and criminal gangs. We saw just last week the tremendous achievement of the Australian Federal Police's Operation Ironside in getting dangerous criminals, drugs and guns off our streets. Our government is determined to give our law enforcement and national security agencies the resources they need to tackle crime and to make our community safer, whether that's funding or new laws to ensure they can carry out their work. The 2020-21 budget provided a record funding boost to the AFP.

The centrepiece of this year's budget is a record $1.3 billion to boost ASIO's capabilities, and this of course will help secure our sovereign interests and counter the threat of foreign interference in an increasingly complex world. On that note, we're investing more than $40 million in delivering new reforms to protect Australia's critical infrastructure and secure their supply chains.

We're also tackling cybercrime and ensuring that security and trust are built into the foundations of Australia's growing digital economy. This is really where the nexus between security and our economic interests is obvious and critical. In an increasingly digital world, the threat of cybercrime has real economic implications, and that's why I've elevated the delivery of our $1.67 billion Cyber Security Strategy 2020 as a priority.

Our strong borders are more important than ever before, and we're continuing to invest in border protection with an extra $38 million for Operation Sovereign Borders and over $460 million to strengthen our immigration detention network. It's a little understood fact that the majority of people in immigration detention are those who have arrived legally and had their visas cancelled, normally because they've committed serious crime. The vast majority aren't people seeking asylum. In fact, more than 80 per cent of people in immigration detention have criminal records, so detaining them before they are deported is a very practical and necessary step to ensure both the integrity of our migration system and our community is kept safe.

When it comes to community safety, we're also tackling the monstrous crime of child abuse with close to $60 million for the Australian Federal Police for new frontline activities that will help protect children and further the great work being done at the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, which is doing world-leading work. Importantly, as part of our ongoing commitment to women's safety we're providing more funding to support refugee and migrant women, especially those at risk of domestic violence. Every Australian can be assured that with the investments in this year's budget, our government is focusing on what really matters: keeping Australians, our borders and our economy safe.

4:04 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a government of tactics and not strategy, of reaction and not decision, of politics and not policy—much less purpose—and of cruelty and not compassion. After eight long years the administration of the Home Affairs portfolio fundamentally speaks to this. The question for the new minister is: how can she? She has said that compassion comes in many forms, but can she show it in any form to Australians stranded overseas, to Australians who have been the victims of racial abuse and attacks, and to a four-year-old girl in hospital in Perth? Can she show competence in administering her portfolio, which has never been more important than it is right now as we look to re-engage with the world and emerge from the pandemic? I have a series of questions that go to many aspects of her portfolio, as do my colleagues, and hope she'll be able to answer in this forum or afterwards.

I will talk about the very recent decisions made by the government, including the decision made by Minister Hawke to reunite the Murugappan family. We welcome that, but it must be the start. It can't be regarded as an excuse for so many years of neglect. I ask the minister: what further steps will be undertaken by her or the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, who doesn't appear to be here yet, to ensure that this family are where they belong—in Biloela? Perhaps government members can say their names, including Tharnicca.

When it comes to the humanitarian responsibilities of the Australian government—and I note the recent comments by the minister—what is proposed in respect of New Zealand's generous offer of resettlement, which has now been on the table for eight long years? Perhaps the minister can also advise us about the extraordinary confusion and concern that relates to the heavy-handed administration of the so-called fast-track processing of people seeking asylum. Where is the evidence in this statement that regard is being had for the recommendations of the Halton review or the constitutional responsibilities of this government when it comes to quarantine? Perhaps the minister can reflect on the comments of the former Minister for Home Affairs in relation to the Victorian proposal for purpose-built quarantine, which I note it is too late for but which has ultimately been accepted by this government.

I ask the minister to reflect on the fact that there are still more than 30,000 Australians stranded overseas, many of them in India. Australians in India are threatened with jail simply for wanting to come home—to meet the promise this government made to them as citizens. It was a promise reiterated by the Prime Minister when he said that every stranded Australian would be home by Christmas.

In the area of multicultural affairs—and I do hope the minister will be here—I note that the lessons of last year appear not to have been heeded. Last year this government did not listen to the voices of multicultural communities when it came to public health messaging. This year the same problem has been replicated when it has come to advertising the vaccination rollout. We know there has been no meaningful campaign across the board, but, given the appalling performance of the government in respect of vaccination more broadly, it is particularly concerning that no effort has been made to look at the particular issues within particular communities and to harness the strength and expertise found within those communities, as so many other governments around the world have done.

Through the pandemic, on this side we have recognised that there has been a disturbing upturn in right-wing extremism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism more generally. What has been done by this government? We note that the Race Discrimination Commissioner has put forward a framework, which is a starting point. What is the government going to do with this framework? What is the government going to do with citizenship processing delays? What is the government going to do with the 330,000 people on bridging visas who have been left in limbo? What is the government going to do about visa privatisation? There has been $170 million wasted, and core functions of government are simply not up to scratch. After eight years it's a sorry record for this government. It's time for the minister to start correcting it.

4:09 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak today and put some questions to the minister in consideration in detail on the Home Affairs portfolio. I particularly want to look today at the issues around migration in the COVID context and also at a particular program that is very important to me, the Adult Migrant English Program. I know Minister Andrews knows that program well, because, when she was the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills it was a responsibility that she had, which has now been transferred to the Home Affairs portfolio.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created all sorts of strange sets of circumstances for our country and for the global economy. One of those circumstances has been the fact that we have had so many migrants leave our country as a result of COVID. Indeed, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had half a million temporary visa holders leave these shores. That has created skills shortages and significant job vacancies. In November last year, job vacancies reached a record 254,000. That's higher than at any point in the last 10 years.

I have the privilege in this parliament of chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. We have been taking evidence in an inquiry on skilled migration as to the effect of COVID, and we delivered an interim report back in March. It was interesting to hear from some of the business groups about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their ability to attract people and about those skills shortages that have occurred as a result of so many temporary migrants leaving the country. Business NSW told the committee that half of the businesses in New South Wales are currently experiencing skills shortages. In Western Australia it's one in three businesses. More than a third of businesses in the Northern Territory have identified attracting staff as their greatest challenge over the next three to six months.

One of the strange things about COVID-19 is not only does it create shortages; it also creates opportunities. When people look around the world and see the relative freedom that we have in this country and the good management of the health and economic effects of the pandemic, it means that Australia is even more attractive than it usually is as a place for people to consider migrating to. There are many countries that are looking at resetting their migration programs at this time, including competitor countries like Britain and Canada and New Zealand, whose migration programs we often compare ours with. It's important for us to be thinking about the settings that we have in the migration program at this particular time.

I think the challenge for us as we enter this recovery period is to ensure that we streamline our processes to ensure that we get the skilled workers that Australian businesses need, enabling those businesses to grow and to create more Australians jobs. So my question for the minister on skilled migration is: can the minister explain how the government is planning to address the skills shortages using the migration program as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic?

I wanted to look at another issue that the Joint Standing Committee on Migration handed down a report on last year, also related to COVID—that is, the Working Holiday Maker program. Back when COVID started there were 150,000 working holiday-makers in Australia. The most recent figures I have seen from Minister Littleproud suggest that there are 40,000 working holiday-makers in Australia. Working holiday-makers play a vital role. They are wonderful cultural ambassadors. It is a cultural tourism program. It was good to see yesterday, in the announcement of the new free trade agreement, Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister agreeing to increase the age limit for working holiday-makers from the United Kingdom to 35. Working holiday-makers represent, at their peak, a $3.1 billion industry in Australia in terms of the money that they spend on tourism here. They also play a vital role in a range of different sectors, whether it is tourism and hospitality as workers or whether it is agriculture in particular, and, in thinking about coming into another harvest season, their role has been particularly missed. So I wanted to ask the minister if they could explain what migration levers are being used to address worker shortages, particularly for the upcoming harvest season.

Moving to the Adult Migrant English Program, last year the then Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Minister Tudge, announced some major reforms to the program to improve English outcomes for migrants and humanitarian entrants; to enable more migrants to access English classes for longer until they reach a higher level of proficiency; to modernise the program and increase flexibility for students by providing greater access to online classes and resources; and to encourage greater participation by introducing English language requirements to partner visa applications and permanent resident sponsorships from late 2021. Could the minister provide an update on the rollout of those changes and the impact they are having on enrolment rates in the Adult Migrant English Program?

4:14 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to ask questions of the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. Unfortunately the minister for immigration couldn't greet us with his presence today, but I will ask the questions anyway. These questions centre around the fact that this government is willing to spend huge amounts of money at the cost to Australian taxpayers for very little benefit.

The most obvious and the most ridiculous saga that we as a country have just gone through is taking an innocent family off the mainland to Christmas Island unnecessarily at a huge expense to the taxpayer. We should know how much it cost Australian taxpayers to unnecessarily drag an innocent family in the middle of the night to Christmas Island. The bill that was run up to detain this family on Christmas Island was in the millions, done completely unnecessarily, and now they're being released back into the community in Perth. What a waste of money in between. This government and the coalition like to boast about how they are the economic managers. What a colossal waste of money taking an innocent family to Christmas Island in the middle of the night has been.

We all remember the story as to why Christmas Island was reset up. We had the medevac legislation, which was orchestrated after the government lost that vote in the House of Representatives in the previous parliament. The medevac legislation was set up, and it was working well. As we saw with this family, there was a need for the medevac legislation, because, under this government's care, people weren't getting the medical attention that they needed. A four-year-old girl developed a blood infection because of untreated pneumonia. If that is not a stark reminder of why we needed the medevac bill in the first place then I don't know what is.

The medevac legislation was set up, and this government were so intent on playing politics and wasting millions of dollars that they reset up the Christmas Island detention centre. They told us that if we weren't to repeal the medevac legislation—if the medevac bill were going to stay where it was—then our borders were going to be inundated. That was the nonsense that we heard from this government. It culminated in one of the most embarrassing press conferences from the Prime Minister, when he stood by himself, inspecting cages on Christmas Island at the cost of who knows what to the taxpayers. They had absolutely no use for it. At that stage there was not one person being detained on Christmas Island, and yet this government thought that the appropriate course of action was to pull an innocent family out of detention and make them sit on Christmas Island, most of the time by themselves—until other people were detained at Christmas Island. So our question is: how much did you spend wasting money to detain an innocent family all the while allowing a little girl to develop a blood infection for untreated pneumonia? What a colossal waste of money.

We in this country have spent a fortune on our regime that was a response to the medevac legislation. I also ask the government in this last little bit: how much could we have saved on detaining people in that total amount had we said yes to the New Zealand offer—the deal that was struck between Julia Gillard and John Key in 2013 to take 150 people per year? How much would we have saved in not having to detain 150 people each year if we would have accepted New Zealand's offer?

4:19 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to rise and talk about the appropriation bill and this year's budget because they're focused around our response to the royal commission into natural disasters. I'm proud to say that, as of today, 14 of the 18 recommendations that were directed primarily to the federal government have been completed and many more will be completed by the end of this month, as we have new agencies standing up ready for action in future disasters.

We've brought together the Bushfire Recovery Agency and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, as per the recommendation. We've brought in the new National Resilience and Recovery Agency, which will play a pivotal part in our response to natural disasters in the future. It's standing up. It will be led by Shane Stone. It will commence on 1 July, ready to tackle, coordinate and cooperate with state agencies should there be another emergency.

I'm proud to say that, of the $2 billion of bushfire money that was committed—in addition to the immediate short-term support that we gave to bushfire victims—as of today $1.6 billion has been spent. We announced last month that, where there have been underspends, there will be a final spend to spend right up to that $2 billion. There is a $280 million fund to help communities reconstruct, invest in infrastructure and diversify their economic base. We've made that commitment to spend $2 billion, and that will continue.

We're looking also to the future. There was significant investment in standing up not just the Resilience and Recovery Agency but the Australian Climate Service. This is a new agency that brings together the skills of 10 agencies—from BOM to CSIRO and Geoscience Australia—so that we have real-time information. We are able to centralise, collate and provide that data to first responders who are making real-time decisions. This is the first time this has been done in our nation's history. We're also ramping up the capacity of Emergency Management Australia to support that agency in delivering a real-time response to our state agencies in natural disasters.

But we want to go further than that. This was part of the recommendations of the royal commission. We make a real commitment towards betterment and more resilient communities. We have a number of programs. We have worked with the Queensland government on household improvement programs. We're investing in a partnership with them to allow homeowners do renovations to their houses to make them more resilient to cyclones. We've had a very successful program. In fact, that has had some results. Some insurance policies have come down by nearly $300 as a result of that investment. As a result of the experience of those types of programs we have announced $600 million in the Preparing Australia Program. It's a very important program. There's $400 million for public mitigation infrastructure and $200 million for household infrastructure, similar to what I just articulated. It's important to build infrastructure in the community, such as levee banks that will keep water away from towns that have previously been inundated.

We're partnering with state governments also. The states have worked with us on mitigation works. Some are better than others. I have to say that the Queensland government has a betterment fund of over $100 million. We're trying to partner with that. That's on top of the $260 million—we have partnered $130 million each—in the national risk reduction framework fund to reduce the risks to our communities.

These projects are important. That's on top of the Emergency Response Fund. I'm proud to say that the $50 million that is available from the fund will be paid out and expended before 30 June—the full $50 million. We have projects right across the country. This year's mitigation was around flooding because the advice we received in the lead-up to this disaster season was around cyclones and flooding. Again there was meticulous preparation by emergency service personnel. They planned and they were right. We saw a number of cyclones and floods in New South Wales and, as we speak now, Victoria. The mitigation works will again go into a lot of flooding infrastructure. It will support those communities and those households. I'm proud to say that $50 million will be expended. We will be opening up next year's round in July to make sure that we can continue to roll that money out. We're making continued investment in not only the immediacy of supporting those who've been impacted by natural disasters but also building resilience to protect families, businesses and communities.

4:24 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is the budget discussion. This is the one time of the year when ministers are meant to turn up here and answer questions about their portfolio and what's in the budget. I'd just record how disrespectful it is, not just to the parliament but to the people who actually care about what's in the immigration portfolio, that the Minister for Immigration, Citizen, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs isn't here. I've never seen this. It's my fifth year in this place and I've never seen a minister actually not have the guts to turn up and answer questions about their portfolio. Under this government we have seen—

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

She's not the immigration minister.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

She doesn't have the delegation that the immigration minister has. That's a fact.

Ms Bell interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member is entitled to be heard in silence.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Under this government, over 100,000 Australians have been waiting for years for visas for their partners. The government is using COVID as an excuse. This crisis has been years in the making. It used to take under a year, under Labor, to get a visa for your loved one, your husband or your wife. Now it's two years and climbing, or four years or more if you live in certain parts of the world. Thanks to activists, the government panicked last year and said in the budget that they would put through 72,000 partner visas. They've trumpeted this to try and shut people up. So I ask the minister: will you get to 72,000 visas, and, if not, how many visas are you going to issue in the next two weeks to meet your own target? And what do you say to the thousands of Australians who are still desperately waiting? How long are they going to have to wait? How many visas are you going to issue this coming year?

People are distraught. I'll again, one year on, repeat the case of Faniz in my electorate, who still has no visa. Her baby is turning one in July. I've written to three successive ministers about Faniz's case, but still there's no visa. Her husband, the father of the child, has never met the child except on WhatsApp. She works at a law firm. She pays taxes. She has suffered from depression. She has now written to me this week to say, 'We need a time line.' She says:

We need to plan for our life, even though Iran is not a safe country but I miss my husband and we need to plan something else … if it is taking couple of more years for me him to get here we might need to go somewhere and stay there and build our life in another country. We cannot keep on waiting for this visa. It is heart breaking how my husband missed all my pregnancy plus the whole year that our daughter was born.

…   …   …

I know someone who is from UK and applied in April 2021 and visa 309 was granted within 5 weeks. They not processing it in order—

as the government claims—

I believe they are processing it by the race and this is very disrespectful and discriminating.

So I ask the minister: will you end this discrimination against people like Faniz and the tens of thousands of people around the country who happen to fall in love with someone who's not from a nice, white, English-speaking country? The facts are these. This is a map. This shows you the average waiting time, if you fall in love with someone—

Government members interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Order!

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

All of the government members are saying this is not true. This is the government's own data. If you fall in love with someone from the UK, the USA or Germany, you get your visa in an average of seven to nine months. If you commit the great sin of falling in love with someone from China or from India, it's at least 18 months and often more. Why do you discriminate against people who fall in love with people from China and India? Then there's Afghanistan. Those opposite yell and they scream, but these are their own facts, their own data. If you fall in love with someone from Afghanistan, it takes, on average, 43 months.

A government member: It's not for the reason you're implying.

It is a country that is so unsafe that the government's pulled out every diplomat from that country—

Government members interjecting

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I say to members that the member is entitled to be heard in silence. This is not a backwards-and-forwards debating chamber. Understood? Thanks.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Every diplomat has been pulled out of Afghanistan because of security, and yet the government has nothing to say to Australians whose husbands, wives and children are there fearing for their lives. It's absolutely disgraceful. So I ask the minister: when will this discrimination end, and what possible explanation is there that that is the average processing time? I'm not talking about the outlier cases with complex identification; I get that. This is the average processing time under this government. And it's not a COVID thing. You can't hide behind COVID. This is eight years of data.

The final thing I'll say is: for subclass 300 visa holders, fiances are family too. These are genuine relationships, often of years and years, and yet there are thousands of people who are separated from their partners because they're not married. They've applied, they might have the visa, but they're not getting in. There are genuine religious and cultural reasons why many people won't physically live together for 12 months before marriage. So I say to the minister: when will subclass 300 visa holders be able to come and get married? Can you guarantee also that decisions in your department about travel authorisations—this is the minister in the Chamber's responsibility—are being made consistently? We keep hearing instances of inconsistency where a few random people get the authorisation and everyone else doesn't.

4:30 pm

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

There are many reasons why it's an honour to be in parliament representing my electorate, but one of the driving forces for me, being a young dad, is to do all that I can in this place to help keep our kids safe. That's why I'm so proud to be part of the Morrison government, which is steadfast in its commitment to keeping our children safe from harm. As parents we know the importance of supervision. When we go to the local park, we of course keep an eye on our kids, don't we? We make sure they're safe from harm, away from strangers. If a stranger approaches them then we're able to step in and do something about it. But what happens online? We can't be with our kids at every key stroke, on every app, on every game, on every website. Of course there are safeguards we can put in place—parental controls and the like—but it seems that, every time we do, some of the most heinous criminals find a workaround in order to get to our kids. Child exploitation is unfortunately on the rise, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a scourge that is of the most heinous nature, and we must do everything in our power to stop it and to find these predators and lock them up. Recently, a local dad posted on our community Facebook group in the Ryan electorate that he'd reviewed the online chats of his young son, who he thought was playing games with friends online. To his shock, the chat wasn't about the game. In fact an online stranger was asking his son escalating grooming questions, starting with whether he liked boys or girls or both. These predators are using any means necessary, starting off with what would be considered normal questions and then escalating into examples like this.

We all have a role to play in online safety as parents, carers and online users ourselves, but government has a role to play as well. I'm proud that in 2018 the Morrison government established the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, known as the ACCCE. In response to the increasing number and severity of reports of child exploitation, a $68.6 million commitment was made, and the ACCCE was started in my home town, Brisbane. The ACCCE, led by the AFP, brings together skills from across the public and private sectors, with people working together in one hub to protect our kids. The ACCCE provides a capability not held by any single federal or state agency in Australia. It provides a conduit for foreign law enforcement to tackle the borderless crime of creating and sharing heinous child abuse material. The ACCCE has been joined by some world renowned personnel, who are now working here in Australia. It has also been joined by community members, organisations and not-for-profits who are dedicated to this sector.

Last year I got to visit the ACCCE, which is, as I said, located in Brisbane, and speak with many of its dedicated officers and employees. The work done by each and every team member is absolutely incredible, and we owe them an enormous debt. They do some horrible and disturbing work, working through thousands of reported images of the most disturbing nature and intercepting messages across dark and clear nets in order to infiltrate networks of offenders producing and sharing content. These are AFP officers under cover in some of the darkest and nastiest places on the internet, pretending to be something they clearly are not, who then have to go home and talk with their own families, having seen some of this content. They're parents themselves. I cannot even come close to imagining the challenge that work would present, but they do it day in, day out. They do it without any expectation of recognition, and I always take the opportunity when I'm speaking in this place about this issue to say thank you, on behalf of the Australian parliament, to the officers who are doing this work.

ACCCE recently completed a study into understanding community awareness, perceptions, attitudes and preventative behaviours. Remarkably, the officers of the ACCCE found that four out of five children aged four are using the internet, and 30 per cent of those children have access to their own internet enabled device. One in two children under the age of 12 has their own device. Despite this, only 52 per cent of parents have spoken to their kids about online safety. By the age of 11 most children are using the internet unsupervised.

We have such a large amount of work to do in this space, and I'm so glad that, in Minister Andrews, we have a minister who's absolutely dedicated to protecting our kids in the same way that I am and every member of the government and, I would hope, the parliament is. That is why, as part of this year's budget, a significant amount of money has been dedicated to continuing the incredible work of the ACE and to helping educate and support parents in online safety. Minister Andrews, my question is: how is the Morrison government helping to further protect our kids from exploitation as a result of this recent budget?

4:35 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have some questions for the Minister of Home Affairs in relation to the government's failure to appropriately regulate anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing. Since 2013, the coalition has repeatedly missed deadlines in its own anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism-financing reform timetable. One example of many is its failure to implement tranche 2 regulation, which would regulate solicitors, lawyers, real estate agents and accountants. This was picked up in a Financial Action Task Force review of Australia's AML/CTF regime in 2015 and in the third enhanced follow-up report and technical compliance re-rating by that same organisation in 2018. This government promised action on that front years ago and it hasn't been delivered. This has created large and growing risks to Australia's national security. While other countries have strengthened their defences against the proceeds of criminal and corrupt business practices, this government has left the door open for illicit capital to flood into Australia.

The government also has failed to enforce AML/CTF laws. Australians were scandalised by the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, which showed that there had been massive, systemic breaches of AML/CTF legislation within casinos for an extended period of time. The risks to Australia and to the integrity of our AML/CTF laws are enormous. Where was the Morrison government? Its own regulator gave casino junket operations its tick of approval only three years ago. Instead, the Bergin inquiry found that the Morrison government had failed to properly regulate casino junkets or to prevent money laundering from becoming endemic in some casinos.

Firstly, why did it take a state based inquiry to reveal that there had been massive, systemic breaches of AML/CTF legislation within casinos for a long period of time, concentrated particularly within junket operations. Secondly, if this government has been doing its job, why have so many state based inquiries and royal commissions been established to investigate money laundering and other criminality in casinos? Thirdly, much like Australia's biosecurity, isn't this just another example of state governments doing the Morrison government's job for it. The Morrison government failed to get to grips with money-laundering risks in casinos, undermining Australia's national security and the integrity of our financial system while giving a break to organised crime groups.

There are also issues surrounding the resourcing of our regulator. Given that AUSTRAC has been so slow to get to grips with the problems endemic within the casino sector and that it took years to respond to issues within banks such as Westpac, why won't the government properly equip the regulator to do its job? With AUSTRAC struggling to regulate even the relatively few designated entities within its current orbit, such as banks and casinos, how can Australians be confident that this government would properly resource the regulator to meet its obligations under the tranche 2 regulation, which it has promised and failed to deliver for so long, but which we must expect will be delivered at some point.

Australia's existing AML/CTF laws were supposed to be just the first step in a much longer sequence of reforms to ensure that dodgy cash couldn't flow into Australia. But since 2013 this government has repeatedly missed deadlines in its own AML/CTF reform timetable. As I indicated, the real estate sector, in particular, has been repeatedly identified as an acute vulnerability in Australia's AML regime, with billions in illicit capital flowing unchecked into Australian housing. As I've already indicated, the Financial Action Task Force has on multiple occasions pointed to this as an area of noncompliance with best practice in our regulatory regime. Not only the FATF but also the IMF, the OECD and other independent international reviewers and regulators have identified systemic weaknesses and gaps in Australia's AML/CTF regime. This is not some technocratic nicety; this is the pointy end of organised crime both within Australia and across international boundaries and of how organised crime makes use of the illicit proceeds of that crime.

The primary source of Australia's continued noncompliance is the failure of this government to enact tranche 2 laws, although the government, as I've noted, is also failing to prevent money laundering in many other areas which it does regulate. Importantly, our key allies and trading partners—New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Canada and many others—have already implemented tranche 2 and strengthened their existing AML defences. Australia is risking becoming the weak link in the chain. This government is leaving Australia and Australian businesses vulnerable and is jeopardising our national security. So my final question is: why hasn't this government moved forward with tranche 2 legislation as it has promised it would do across multiple years on multiple occasions?

4:40 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The issue I want to talk about tonight under the Home Affairs portfolio is a very important issue, and that's modern slavery. The Liberal Morrison government has taken a global leadership role in combatting modern slavery. Modern slavery describes situations where offenders use coercion, threats or deception to exploit victims and undermine their freedom. It includes human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and child labour. It robs women, men and children of their freedom and their rights with devastating consequences for victims, which, most of the time, is for their entire life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased many of the risks of modern slavery, by increasing isolation affecting the capacity of individuals to access support services, causing loss of work and reduced income increasing workers' vulnerability to exploitation, and pressurising supply chains who rely on exploitive practices. The Liberal Morrison government has taken a worldwide leadership role in addressing modern slavery risks in its international supply chains through the enactment of the landmark legislation the Modern Slavery Act 2018. The act is the strongest legislation of its kind in the world. It requires commercial and charitable entities with over $100 million annual consolidated revenue to submit annual Modern Slavery Statements. These statements detail the entities' supply chain arrangements and measures taken to eradicate risks of modern slavery at each step in the chain.

The act includes landmark features such as clear mandatory criteria that businesses must address in their statements. It requires the Commonwealth government to report on modern slavery risks in its own procurement and investment activities through a Commonwealth Modern Slavery Statement. It established the world's first government-run online central registry to house statements and launched the registry in July 2020, with the first tranche of statements published in November 2020. To date, the Morrison government has published over 1,300 Modern Slavery Statements on the public-accessible, fully searchable online register representing more than 2,500 reporting entities. These statements demonstrate how Australian businesses are taking steps to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains and will be closely scrutinised by a range of stakeholders, including investor groups and civil society. November 2020 saw the Morrison government publish its own first statement to address modern slavery risks in Commonwealth procurement activities and investments. The register and copy of Modern Slavery Statements can be found at

In December 2020 the Morrison government further demonstrated the commitment to eradicate modern slavery by launching the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25. The national action plan is guided by five national strategic priorities that will focus efforts over the coming years. They include: prevent modern slavery by empowering vulnerable groups; deter predators by disrupting, investigating and prosecuting modern slavery crimes; support and protect victims and survivors; build partnerships with civil society, business, unions, academia and international partners; and foster research to support evidence based responses. The NAP was developed through extensive community consultation led by Australian Border Force, including a public consultation paper and 27 workshops with 44 civil society groups, academia and service providers across states and territories. Can I thank all of those who have been involved in developing the national action plan and for all their tireless efforts.

It was great news in the budget this year when $10.6 million of funding was committed over the next five years. There is $4.4 million for grant funding programs over five years to civil society organisations, business and academia to deliver projects to combat modern slavery in Australia. Successful recipients of the grant include Anti-Slavery Australia, Australian Red Cross, Global Compact Network Australia, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and $4 million to fund capacity Australian businesses to respond to modern slavery. Again, can I thank Australian Border Force for all the great work they to in this space.

4:45 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very disappointed that the minister for emergency management isn't able to be in this chamber right now to hear the questions about the responsibilities that he has, and the first is around the Emergency Response Fund. It's been more than two years since the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund was announced. That was in the 2019 budget speech, and in the latest rounds of estimates it was confirmed that the ERF has still not released a single cent—not a cent. The fund could be building cyclone shelters, flood levees, firebreaks right now. Instead, it's languishing in the Prime Minister's bank account. What it's done over that time, though, is raise more than $472 million in interest. How is it fair that my bushfire and flood ravaged electorate of Macquarie has not had a single investment from this fund, but the government is earning interest? The forward estimates show that the ERF will earn the government more than $1 billion in interest. How have we not seen a cent from this fund in two years?

The government has tried to pretend that the reason the ERF hasn't been accessed is that there isn't a need. Well, just come to Macquarie and have a look. But you only have to look at the National Flood Infrastructure Mitigation Program, the only pocket of funding that's been announced, although not released, through the ERF, so let's turn to that program which the minister referred to much earlier. The $50 million mitigation program was announced to fund 22 projects across the country. Of those projects, not a single one was in Macquarie, an electorate devastated in the last 12 months not just by one flood but by two. It's not surprising that electorates desperately in need of flood mitigation are missing out. It's happening in towns and communities all across the country. More than 70 projects were submitted for consideration to the program totalling over $230 million. That means it was oversubscribed nearly five times, and the minister wants to act like there's adequate funding, when we have all that other money just sitting there and earning interest. It's an absolute disgrace.

In Macquarie we are still waiting desperately for the government to step up and provide funding support, particularly for riverbed restoration. The riverbanks have been devastated and their restoration will need federal government support. The $150 million in recovery funding could be accessed right now to help the Hawkesbury—right now, no-one would need to wait and that would help residents of Greens Road, Upper Colo, people who have been left in limbo for three months. I'd also like to know: when will we finally begin to see funding released from the ERF and communities protected? When will communities across Australia know how next financial year's ERF funding will be allocated? Why are hundreds of millions of dollars in recovery funding sitting untouched in the ERF? Why is this government more interested in earning hundreds of millions of dollars in interest from the ERF than in protecting communities like mine?

I want to turn to the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, which was meant to start. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency was meant to keep operating until the end of the year, but it's been swallowed up by this new agency. We welcome the new agency, but we're very concerned to see a repeat of the rorting and jobs for mates that we saw with the NBRA. I turn to the $177 million for local economic recovery funding across New South Wales, where not a cent went to the state Labor electorate of the Blue Mountains, which is in my electorate. This was despite two separate commissioned reports showing the Blue Mountains was profoundly damaged, both environmentally and economically, by the Black Summer fires. The new agency is now in charge of billions of dollars of recovery and resilience funding. They must guarantee areas that need help are given it. I hope it will be better, but I'm not holding out much hope because no guidelines were released. There were no guidelines, no processes and no consultation for the latest $280 million Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants.

In terms of jobs for mates, they've handed the reigns of the new National Recovery and Resilience Agency to Shane Stone, the former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who admitted in estimates to being a life member of the Victorian Liberal Party and the Country Liberal Party. My question is: why hasn't he met with those of us who have bushfire ravaged areas? We have certainly requested meetings, and we look forward to meeting. Why has the government announced hundreds of millions in funding with no guidelines, no processes and no warnings? What will the minister do to ensure this funding will not be rorted, like the local economic recovery funding? (Time expired)

4:50 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

During the past 18 months we've introduced greater flexibility into visa requirements and conditions to ensure temporary and provisional visa holders affected by the pandemic can continue to stay and work and to ensure businesses in critical sectors like health, aged care, disability services, child care, agriculture and food processing can access the skills they need. The government acted quickly so that those temporary visa holders could fill labour shortages and could have certainty about their stay here. We've not required anybody who has been a guest in Australia during this period to leave, and people continue to stay and work successfully in so many sectors and areas.

We've introduced concessions for international students and working holiday-makers so they can continue working in critical sectors, and we have expanded concessions to the tourism and hospitality sectors. We still have up to 30,000 backpackers in the working holiday-maker scheme here, and the government has ensured that they can continue to have their visas extended and their opportunities expanded so they are able to stay safely and continue to work and make choices about their stays. We have waived eligibility charges and we have introduced a 408 COVID event visa, which enables people to stay here for longer periods while we get through the COVID pandemic. The government has also introduced the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List. We will continue to update that list to take account of those critical skills that are a priority for processing during the pandemic.

I note members' comments about changes in priority processing times. Absolutely I want to thank all of the staff of the Department of Home Affairs who have been involved in processing visas—record numbers of visas and applications in many cases—as we see surges in demand because of COVID, and certainly for things like Australian citizenship. In fact, in the last year we had a record amount of citizenships processed, with over 200,000 Australian citizenships being granted. That's a record in Australian history and, of course, that's a significant achievement by the department and the government.

In terms of partner processing, I certainly would say to the member for Bruce that he's brought the passion to this debate, and he should apply that passion to the scrutiny of the detail that he brings in as well, and perhaps his passion to the facts about that detail, because facts without context and facts without relevant judgement and consideration can lead to some misnomers. His assumption that the delays we have in certain partner visa cohorts have a racial cause, of course, is incorrect. Race has nothing to do with it. We have a non-discriminatory migration program. Everybody here believes in that. His allegations that there is a racial consideration are completely false.

He also puts an equivalence on every country in the world, and he cites several countries and says, 'Why aren't all processing times equal?' The facts simply answer his questions in a straightforward fashion, because not every country in the world is equal in their ability to provide the relevant information on behalf of people to complete health and character checks to ensure that those visas can be processed. One of the countries he spoke about was Afghanistan. If he's comparing Afghanistan with the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada or other countries that is he cited, I think he will come to his own conclusion about why processing times are not the same in accessing information from government departments. His allegation that race is a factor in every one of those countries I think belies the fact that both the United Kingdom and the United States of America are multiracial countries. People come from all racial backgrounds in these countries. There is no discrimination on the basis of race. To suggest that everybody in the UK is white or that everybody in the US is white I think is highly offensive and inaccurate. I really don't understand the accusation. It's a low-brow accusation. It doesn't bear out the facts. A simple examination of what he is saying belies the complete untruth about the allegation he is making.

The fact is the government has put forward a record amount of partner visa allocations for this year. His question will be answered in coming weeks, when I make an announcement about the final outcome for the migration program, where we will, of course, do everything possible to meet the 160,000 level that the government and cabinet have set for this year. That will include a pretty good amount of partner visa processing, given the circumstances of COVID. Of course, there are delays. COVID has further delayed partner visa processing in some countries, and that's to be regretted. We'll work consistently with agencies everywhere to make sure that we can get that information and that people can meet their health and character checks. But many do not in different partnering visa processing, and that has to be taken into account as well.

I will say more in another contribution, but the government are working through this. We are processing visas well. We'll make an announcement about the final migration outcome in coming weeks.

4:55 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

On Tuesday of this week the Assistant Minister for Defence released new figures indicating that ransomware reports to the Australian Cyber Security Centre had increased by 200 per cent. In response, he announced an awareness campaign and called on Australian organisations to lift their cyberdefences in the face of increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced Russian ransomware groups.

Defending against ransomware certainly begins with individual organisational IT security, but that is far from the end of the conversation. Labor has been calling on the Morrison government to develop a national ransomware strategy since February to ensure that government is doing all that it can to combat these attacks across its policy, regulation, law enforcement, diplomacy and defence capabilities. The head of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, Lindy Cameron, echoed this call on Monday of this week, saying that ransomware required 'a whole-of-government response'. Minister, in the wake of an onslaught of ransomware attacks targeting Australian organisations, including JBS Foods, the Nine Network and multiple hospitals, why won't the government develop a national ransomware strategy?

Labor has also said that the foundation of such a national ransomware strategy should be mandatory notification of ransomware payments. This is really the bare minimum that the government should be doing if it is really serious about fighting back against the threat of ransomware. Such a scheme should require businesses to tell the Australian Cyber Security Centre before they make a ransom payment and to provide a standard set of data, including the ransomware crew demanding the payment, the cryptocurrency wallet ID that the ransom is being paid into and any indicators of compromise related to the attack. It would provide valuable actionable intelligence about ransomware crews menacing organisations that law enforcement and policymakers could use to target those crews for disruption through law enforcement and offensive cyberoperations. Mandatory notification has been recommended by the Institute of Security and Technology's international Ransomware Task Force report, by the former head of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Chris Krebs, and by the former head of MI6, Alex Younger. Why won't the government take this basic step of establishing a mandatory reporting scheme for ransomware payments?

Our major allies are treating this issue with the urgency that it deserves, with the US Department of Justice establishing a dedicated ransomware task force. This task force will target the criminal ecosystem around ransomware and coordinate law enforcement action, including sharing of intelligence, coordination with other agencies and international partners, and boosting of collaboration with the private sector. FBI director Christopher Wray compared the threat of ransomware to the threat posed by the 9/11 attacks and said the FBI would treat ransomware with the same priority level as it did terrorism. Despite the ACSC labelling ransomware as 'the highest threat facing Australian businesses', we learnt in Senate estimates that the AFP doesn't even track the number of ransomware incidents in Australia and that there was only one Australian prosecution for ransomware attacks in the last 12 months. Ransomware is effectively a crime with impunity in Australia today. Minister, why won't the Morrison government prioritise this serious threat with the same urgency as the US justice department and the FBI by establishing a dedicated ransomware task force?

The Morrison government needs to use all its available capabilities in fighting ransomware. These criminal ransomware groups are motivated by money and we should be going after them. We can target the points in the financial system where ransomware crews seek to transfer and exchange cryptocurrency into fiat currency to utilise their ill-gotten gains. A report by the international Ransomware Task Force cited research by Chainalysis that found that just a handful of cryptocurrency addresses received the vast bulk of the ransomware payments paid in 2020. The Financial Action Task Force recently proposed a travel rule, which would extend know-your-customer obligations on the senders and receivers of digital currency to digital currency exchange providers. AUSTRAC told us at Senate estimates that these reforms would assist in the fight against ransomware. Minister, why won't the Morrison government give AUSTRAC the tools it needs to track cryptocurrency payments and exchanges made by ransomware groups?

To date, ransomware crews have been able to target Australian organisations with impunity. No wonder we've seen attacks increasing in scale, frequency and ambition. The Assistant Minister for Defence has issued media releases with lots of tough talk on offensive cyberoperations against cybercrime groups, but the government can't give a single example of operations against a ransomware group. In fact, the Australian Signals Directorate confirmed at Senate estimates that it took no offensive cyberoperations against the groups responsible for the ransomware attacks on the Nine Network or for attacks on Australian hospitals. As the former head of the UK NCSC Ciaran Martin has said: 'Unless these statements on offensive operations are followed by specific'—

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. It being five o'clock, the debate has concluded.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Debate adjourned.