Monday, 21 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail
It's a great opportunity for me to be able to speak about the Finance portfolio in this consideration in detail and reiterate that Australia entered the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been our life for a little time, from a position of economic strength. We brought the budget back into broad balance for the first time since the Howard government. The fiscal position that we reached ahead of the pandemic ensured that we were then able to provide support to Australians in an unprecedented fashion. It is for this reason, amongst many, that the Australian economy has rebounded at its fastest pace on record, outperforming all major advanced economies in 2020.
The 2021 budget consolidates these gains from last year and has put Australia on course for an unemployment rate to fall below five per cent. As we all know, unemployment has reached just 5.1 per cent in the last few days, lower indeed than the 5.3 per cent recorded at the start of the pandemic in March last year. Our fiscal strategies are based around support for strong and sustainable private sector led growth and job creation, recognising that business conditions offer the pathway to a strong and sustainable fiscal position. The priority of the first phase of the fiscal consolidation is to bolster business conditions, improve confidence and create jobs. The aim of this phase is to ensure, as I've said, strong and sustained private sector led growth to drive the unemployment rate even lower. The second phase of our fiscal strategy is to grow the economy in order to stabilise debt. This commitment to balance-sheet discipline will be managed carefully, I can assure the House, so we retain flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions.
Our economic response to COVID-19 has inevitably come at a significant cost. The deficit will reach $161 billion in 2021, but this is some $52.7 billion lower than we expected just over six months ago at last year's budget, and is assisted by more Australians being in work and, of course, fewer Australians on welfare. It further improves to $106.6 billion in 2021-22 before further improving again to $57 billion of deficit in 2024-25. This budget reflects higher than expected tax receipts and lower than expected unemployment benefits—of course, due to the stronger economy. In 2021-22 the government will continue to make necessary investments to help grow our economy to deliver jobs, guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on and keep Australians safe.
One of the responsibilities of the finance portfolio relates to the oversight and governance of government business enterprises. In this respect, over the last seven years the government has made an investment of over $93 billion in government business enterprises to initiate or accelerate the delivery of vital productivity improving national infrastructure. This includes NBN, Inland Rail, Western Sydney airport, submarine and shipbuilding infrastructure in South Australia, Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and, notably, Snowy 2.0. These public investments are unlocking $25 billion of private sector investment, and support, amongst other things, job creation especially in regional Australia.
Jobs will also be created through Australia's Technology Investment Roadmap, which is expected to guide $18 billion of government investment over the next decade, drive at least $70 billion of new investment in low emissions technologies and support 130,000 jobs by 2030. We're investing an additional $2.7 billion to boost the apprenticeship commencement wage subsidy. In this respect, we're uncapping the number of eligible places and increasing the duration of the 50 per cent wage subsidy to 12 months. This further support to business is expected to generate 171,000 additional new apprenticeship places. Deregulation is also central to the government's JobMaker plan and includes $134.6 million in deregulation measures. These are estimated to deliver business a reduction in compliance costs of $430 million per year. Across a range of measures such as tax cuts, business investments, apprenticeships, training places and a pipeline of infrastructure we are ensuring that Australia comes back even bigger and stronger.
I'm sure those opposite wish that they had one of those little Men in Black memory wiping devices, because then they could wipe away the debt truck, which their party proudly unveiled with a figure of $315 billion that they were criticising Labor as having taken on to deal with the global financial crisis. Under this budget, debt will go to one trillion dollars. The party that promised the budget would be back in surplus in their first year and in every year after that have failed to deliver a single surplus in eight years, and never will deliver a surplus.
This is a budget which is weighed down with rorts and waste. There are 21 funds either created or topped up in this budget, including $250 million more for the Building Better Regions Fund, in which 89 per cent of projects went to coalition seats. There is a $55 million top-up for the Community Development Grants Program, where 68 per cent of projects approved between the 2019 election and mid January this year went to coalition seats. And, of course, we can't forget the Safer Communities Fund, in which 91 per cent of the funding went to government-held, Independent or marginal Labor seats. Then there's the sports rorts affair. If I focused on that, it would take the remainder of my time.
The government is also in this budget continuing a range of ideological agendas. There is the attack on proxy advisers, which are firms who provide advice to investors. You'd think that those opposite would be in favour of free speech and the freedom of proxy advisers, but in fact they want proxy advisers to provide their advice to firms five days in advance. Asked in Senate estimates where these ideas came from, Treasury assistant secretary Tom Dickson said:
Unfortunately, under the Biden administration the United States have changed their position on proxy advisers. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has told the SEC enforcement team to ignore rules introduced by the Trump administration in 2019 and 2020 that would force US proxy advisers to disclose their recommendations to investors before they are made and to give listed companies their research before their clients receive it. As Dean Paatsch of Ownership Matters has put it:
The problem when you're importing Trumpian thought bubbles is when those bubbles burst you're really left with nothing.
There is also a measure which Labor has supported in the budget, relating to junior minerals exploration. This is a measure which looks to increase the incentives for junior minerals investors, and I'd like to reiterate to the House Labor's view on this measure. The former shadow minister for resources Gary Gray told parliament on 24 February 2015, in relation to a bill on this matter that was then before the House, 'The opposition supports this bill,' but he went on to talk about the importance of the work of Geoscience Australia in driving exploration in areas such as the Carrapateena resource, a copper-gold formation near the Woomera Prohibited Area, in 2006. He pointed out that that exploration wasn't done for a tax break; it was done for the prize because of the international commodity price cycle and because of an understanding of geology. Gary Gray reiterated frequently to the House the importance of Geoscience Australia. It was in the light of that that, when the bill last came before the House, Labor amended the bill successfully, requiring the minister to publish an annual impact assessment of the junior minerals exploration incentive. I look forward to seeing the detail of that impact assessment. Labor also believes that transparency is critical, and we pushed on the government the need to disclose which small exploration companies received the benefit of that.
Then there is JobKeeper, the rort that keeps on giving, which has seen some $15 billion to $20 billion of taxpayer money going to firms with rising profits. Public universities were shut out of JobKeeper, yet we've now learned that some $17 million went to Bond University, a private university that managed to increase its profits during the pandemic.
For me as the representative of Goldstein, it's a pleasure to be able to stand here at the podium and ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Finance being in the Senate. Of course, I do so against the backdrop of a budget that was delivered focused squarely on what we need to do to get Australians in employment. Cast your mind back 12 months and think about where the Australian economy was at the time. We all looked with trepidation at the risks that were being posed from lockdowns and international measures which potentially could have stopped not just international tourists but also international trade and, of course, students. We were worried about the consequences of where we could end up, and the focus of the Morrison government at that time was to put energy and initiative into supporting households and families and, more critically, supporting Australians to stay in work during that time. That was the genesis not just of the JobSeeker supplement but, of course, of JobKeeper. JobKeeper was one of the most radical innovations in Australian public policy, through the use of Single Touch Payroll, to deliver income support to Australians through their employer, to make sure not just that people got the financial support they needed but, as measures declined in association with COVID-19, were able to get back into their jobs quickly rather than having employment relationships severed.
And that's the critical difference between this government and the government of Victoria. The Morrison government has been focusing on what we need to do to keep people in private sector jobs—what we need to do to support people so that they can be independent, contribute to the state of the economy and contribute to the growth of the nation as a whole. In the great state of Victoria, my home state, the primary thing the state government did was give public sector workers pay rises throughout the pandemic. Let's think about that. We had people with businesses who were on their knees. They were desperate for assistance and support through state government measures that forced them to shut down—many in the Goldstein electorate but, of course, throughout the entire state of Victoria—and the response from the state government was basically to tell them to go jump. They gave them virtually no support, no assistance. But what they did was take their tax dollars and give public sector workers, who already had significant job security—and, frankly, significant wages—a top up to reward them for that. We on this side of the chamber have nothing against public sector workers, but we do acknowledge that they're supported through the tax revenues provided by private sector workers and those who create the wealth of the nation. If you're going to have taxpayers, you can't have those that enjoy the benefits of that payment of tax. That's why our focus is always on what we need to do to harden and build up the strength of our country from the citizen, from the family, from the community and from the enterprise up, not through Canberra and state capitals down.
That is the great fallacy that sits at the heart of the mad ideology of the Australian Labor Party and the opposition and that is the enduring strength of the coalition's approach, particularly under a Liberal government. We understand how to build the strength of the nation to make it sustainable and put us in a position of strength not just on the world stage but to be able to provide support and assistance for Australians. That's the type of country we want and we're very proud to fight for every step of the way.
There are a lot of measures introduced in this budget that continue that position—continued support for people to make sure that those who are in a position to be able to employ themselves or provide employment for others can do so. The tourism sector continues to struggle as a consequence of international border closures—and the travel sector and travel agents. There are targeted measures in terms of other sectors that need additional support and assistance. But we are looking at COVID 19 not just as a challenge but as an opportunity: how can we be a global hub of capital, particularly using our geography and our isolation to our advantage? Rather than seeing the tyranny of distance as something that holds us back, it's a massive opportunity to contribute to the ongoing opportunities that are provided from it.
The critical question for the minister is to look at these challenges and how we are harnessing them. Minister, for the benefit of the opposition, who are on a constant journey of learning—and hopefully one day they'll get there—why is there a benefit in a privately led jobs recovery to get more Australians into work and to consolidate Australian position as a powerhouse economy, as though that question does not have a self-evident answer?
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the consideration in detail today and ask some questions about this budget—a budget that leads us into deficit to the tune of $340 billion over the forward estimates, with no surplus all the way into the medium term, and with gross debt of $1 trillion by 2022-23 with so very little to show for it, so devoid of vision. Never has Australia seen a budget so devoid of vision—a budget that spends nearly $100 billion but forecasts real wages to go backwards. After eight years of stagnant wage growth under this government, they have no plan for wages. Actually, in their own budget papers, they acknowledge that wages are going to go backwards, that economic growth will be below trend over the forward estimates and that wages growth will continue to be at record lows—$100 billion spent but no vision for something better for Australia.
It's been a challenging time, going through a pandemic, and we're not out of it yet. We've got a vaccine rollout that's a complete shambles. We will never get our economy back on its feet until we are properly vaccinated—when Australians have certainty that they can get on with that—and we can look towards reopening our borders. There should be positives that we look to. There should be an opportunity to invest in Australia and build back better—a more inclusive Australia, a more inclusive economy and a more sustainable economy. But we see nothing from this government for renewable energy in the budget. Today we have them tearing themselves apart, yet again, because they can't even commit to net zero by 2050—the rest of the world has, but not Australia. We want to really lag behind the world; we want to really embarrass ourselves on the world stage, as the Prime Minister did this week. He can't even commit to net zero, which we're actually supposed to be committed to through the Paris Agreement in 2015. The best we can get from this government is that 'preferably we'll get there'. My first question: how do we justify that to future generations? What's the point if we destroy the planet that we're living on?
The centrepiece of this budget was around aged care; $17 billion sounds like a big figure, but what is it actually doing to solve the problems of neglect that we've seen in our aged-care system, which is absolutely in crisis? A serious question: how is that money directed towards addressing the fact that people are malnourished, the fact that people have had maggots in wounds and the fact that people are lying in their own excrement because there aren't enough staff to look after them properly? How is this money directed towards those staff and paying them properly? Why hasn't the government committed to nurses in aged care 24/7? What about waiting lists for home care? What does the $17 billion do for that, except to put more money towards the providers, many of whom mean well but many of whom have been flaunting their wealth while those in aged care are really suffering?
What is in the budget to address poverty, to address the fact that one in six Australian children is living in poverty right now? How does the increase of $3.57 per day in the JobSeeker payment help the 10 per cent of recipients who are single parents? How does it help them to put food on their table and get their kids to school in decent shoes and clothes? These are my questions to the minister. And what does it do for universities? They've been completely left out of the response to COVID. Public universities, as the member for Fenner said, are not even eligible for JobKeeper. I guess some jobs aren't as important as others, according to this government.
Why are we so devoid of vision? Why have we got a government that has led us into a huge debt with barely anything to show for it? My last question is: why couldn't you find $67 million for the National Archives? Perhaps keeping the critical records of our nation isn't important! Why has the National Gallery got a leaking roof? What about our national institutions? Where's the money for them?
We know that the key focus of the Morrison government is job creation, and the Finance portfolio and what it delivers as part of this budget are central to that. So it's a pleasure to be asking a question of the Minister for Finance, represented in this place by the Assistant Treasurer. Unlike those opposite, who often forget this fact, we know it is the private sector that creates the majority of jobs. We are here to institute policies that support the private sector—small and medium businesses in particular—to generate jobs and opportunities and to create wealth in our communities. Obviously, those policy settings are on the right track.
There are more Australians in jobs than before COVID, an extraordinary achievement which is the envy of the world over. Our unemployment rate is down to just 5.1 per cent, and this is good news for all Australians. When it comes to delivering for jobs the Minister for Finance, like the Assistant Treasurer and many others in the Morrison government, has a firm track record of backing Australian businesses to create jobs. The Minister for Finance, in his role as the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment delivered multiple free trade agreements and no doubt was involved in laying the groundwork for the recent FTA with the UK. These are agreements that give priority access to Australian businesses to overseas markets and that boost jobs domestically. I know the Minister for Finance as well as the Assistant Treasurer are acutely aware of the responsibility that we have to continue to put Australian businesses front and centre of the policy decisions that we make and to eliminate barriers to enable them to continue growing and employing our fellow Australians.
Here in Australia we have a thriving manufacturing industry, exporting goods all over the world. We are innovators, creators and entrepreneurs. The Morrison government is focused on ensuring that we continue to have the skills to do this now and into the future. This year's budget delivers $1.3 billion to the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which will help us achieve this aim. Our initiative will support business collaboration, help to enable more businesses to bring new products to the market and integrate our local SMEs into global value chains. We will be co-funding capital investments that help manufacturers scale up, invest in new technologies, create and maintain jobs, reskill their workers and develop new products.
This leads me to a topic that often gets raised by small and medium businesses in my electorate of Ryan, and that is procurement and the ease of doing business with the federal government. This is something that the finance minister has paid particular attention to as part of this budget and more broadly. We need to make sure that, when small and medium businesses engage with Commonwealth agencies, there is a streamlined process that reduces costs and red tape and makes it easy to do business. The often repeated refrain of small and medium businesses in the Ryan electorate, as I'm sure it is around the country, is: 'The government expects us as SMEs to be at the vanguard of making sure that we pay our suppliers on time and that we pay the subbies on time. We would expect the same best practice from the government.' That is indeed what we have set about doing.
As part of the COVID recovery plan we have updated the Commonwealth procurement rules in the government procurement market. As part of the new rules, there's an exemption that will allow agencies to directly engage SMEs for procurements, valued at up to $200,000, which will reduce tendering costs. These, in the life of the federal government, are the smaller value contracts but are incredibly important to the SMEs, and they can mean a real step change for their business if they can do business with the federal government, particularly if it hasn't meant the cost of a very long and arduous procurement process which often favours the primes. They instead allow small businesses to get their foot in the door on government work.
Quicker payment times will also be provided for. Having many former small and family business owners in the coalition, we understand how crucial managing cash flow is and how getting paid on time is such a vital part of managing any balance sheet. Taking away barriers and reducing red tape to the costs of tendering will mean more small and medium businesses engage with the Commonwealth government. In this budget, we are committed to further support in this area. We will create a series of scans of commercial interactions between Australian manufacturers and government agencies to identify areas in the procurement process that can be improved. That is what good government does: it seeks to continually improve its processes. So my question to the minister is: can you please elaborate on the government's approach to partnerships with the private sector that deliver innovation, support new technology and boost the skills of Australian workers?
With this budget, we're going to have the largest budget deficit and the largest debt—over $1 trillion worth of debt—in the history of our nation. During times of crisis and coming out of a pandemic, we understand the need to boost government spending to recharge the economy and to get people back into work. But it's what you spend that additional funding on, and this government's priorities in this budget are all wrong. When you look at the budget papers, particularly over the forward estimates, the government doesn't get much bang for buck through the additional expenditure. Under this government, real wages aren't going to grow over the course of the forward estimates. Economic growth isn't going to charge forward. We're not going to deliver any of the promised improvements to labour productivity. Business investment isn't going to grow. Yet what we're going to see is a continuation of this government's waste and sorry record when it comes to the efficiency of government spending.
We have seen what this government is like with taxpayers' funds. First we had sports rorts, where the government completely abused a system that was set up to ensure that public funds went to sporting organisations that needed them the most. The government used it to pork-barrel. The Prime Minister's office was involved with the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate's office in ensuring that the recommendations from Sport Australia were completely ignored, and the government just pork-barrelled funds into marginal seats and coalition held seats. Then that was followed up by the Building Better Regions Fund, $250 million on this occasion, with 89 per cent of the projects and funding between the 2019 election and the end of 2020 going to—guess where?—coalition seats, with 112 out of 330 projects in round 3 and 49 out of 163 projects in round 4 approved by the Deputy Prime Minister's hand-picked ministerial panel, against departmental recommendations. If you're going to start getting the economy on the right trajectory and paying back some of this deficit, how are you going to achieve that when you're blatantly wasting taxpayers' money for your own political purposes? It doesn't end there.
The NBN, as we all know, has been a complete shambles under this government. Remember that they promised before they were elected in 2013 that the cost of the NBN would be $29.5 billion. Have a guess what the cost is to date. It is $51 billion. They promised that they would be able to roll it out quicker and that the technology would be better, because they weren't going to use fibre to the premises, as Labor was promising to deliver; no, they were going to use fibre to the node and fibre to the curb. Guess what? It wasn't cheaper, they didn't roll it out more quickly, and it takes a lot longer for people to get access to the technology. Now they're talking about actually going back to Labor's original plan of fibre to the premises, but people would have to pay for that, to the tune of about $400 a room. This government is now promising to spend an extra $3.5 billion on rewiring the NBN to deliver Labor's original promise, which they could have done much more cheaply and on time, instead of the wastage of public dollars that we have seen. It doesn't end there.
Let's get onto robodebt. The government spent $1.2 billion on a failed scheme that basically embarrassed them and showed just how incompetent they are. They're not my words; they're the words of a Federal Court judge that independently assessed this scheme. He said it was 'a shameful chapter in Australia's history' and 'a massive failure of public administration'. They are the words of an independent judge about this government: 'a massive failure'. That is what this government is—a massive failure. There were $721 million in refunds, $112 million in compo and $398 million in cancelled debts. This government says that it is better at administering public funds. What a joke.
My question to the minister is: what is the government going to put in place to ensure there is integrity in these schemes in the future and that you don't take the opportunity to pork-barrel with Australian taxpayers' funds on all of these schemes that you have announced in the budget?
This budget has been about the economic recovery from COVID. On that score, we've made a great deal of progress. Unemployment figures out last week, as people here would be aware, showed that the unemployment rate is now down to 5.1 per cent, at a level not seen since before the pandemic. We had 115,000 new jobs created last month, in the month of May. Our economy is larger than it was going into the pandemic. We are one of only eight economies in the world that have maintained a AAA credit rating throughout this. On that score, we have a good record.
But this budget is also about ensuring our growth and prosperity in Australia in the medium to longer term, and digital here is really the key to the future. I think, as members here would be aware, the nature of value-creation and the nature of jobs and employment are changing. What we're increasingly seeing is that value-creation is characterised more by electrons than atoms. It's not so much about physical goods as about virtual goods and information and the flows of data. Increasingly, it's spaces rather than places that matter: virtual spaces and virtual marketplaces, rather than physical places and physical offices. Increasingly, it's about services rather than products, whether you're using cloud based storage services, or renting accounting services like Xero or ridesharing services, for instance. This is the way that the economy is changing and this is how the nature of value-creation is changing.
I think, in this sort of a world, Australia actually has a huge number of potential advantages. One of the burdens we've laboured under for most of the modern era is the tyranny of distance—our long distance from marketplaces and the fact that it costs a lot to get physical goods to our customers. Well, in this new era, when what's being created is almost frictionless to move a long distance and across jurisdictions, Australia is well positioned. We are also well positioned because we've got a highly skilled workforce, we've got high-quality tertiary education institutions, we've got companies and institutions that spend a large amount on research and development, and we are a very attractive place to live, to settle, to invest and to locate, and we've only become more so through this pandemic because of how we've performed in health terms.
So this is why I think it's incredibly important that this budget allocates a substantial amount of money in new investments and further drives the uptake of the digital economy and digital technology across all sectors of the Australian economy. There's $1.2 billion worth of measures up here. We've got our Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, which provides $124 million to use AI to help modernise manufacturing and farming activities, improve the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and also enhance our defence capabilities. This AI Action Plan will also fund four centres to bring together industry, peak bodies and technical specialists and help connect small and medium enterprises to AI tools and research and provide SMEs with advice and training so they can confidently adopt AI technologies.
We are also investing over $100 million to support digital skills for Australians, to make sure that Australians are prepared for the workplace of the future, which includes competitive national scholarships to train at least 234 home-grown AI specialists and help address the shortage of specialists which businesses report as being one of the most pressing challenges for them in adopting new technologies. We are also putting almost $120 million into investment incentives for digital technologies that create jobs, including the digital games tax offset, to help make Australia an attractive destination for the rapidly expanding global gaming sector.
We are providing funding of $40 million to Geoscience Australia to help create a three-dimensional digital atlas of Australia's geography, bringing together a wealth of government data, on people, economy, employment, infrastructure, health, land, the environment and weather patterns into a single national data asset that will help open new economic, social and technological opportunities, from supporting bushfire response and modelling to helping manage feral animals and weeds, virtually designing new roads and helping with major infrastructure projects.
Finally, digital technologies are also changing how Australians and businesses interact with the government. Australians rightly expect continuous improvement from government, in the same way they do from their other service providers. That's why we're spending almost half a billion dollars in enhancing digital government service delivery, which will allow Australians better access to government services online.
In short, this budget is a transformative one. It contains public investment to accelerate the uptake of the latest technology in both the public and private spheres. I ask the minister representing the finance minister here if he could please comment on the importance of technological modernisation, the uptake of the digital economy and the need for public-private collaboration in taking this forward.
Labor of course supports using the budget to support the economy in times of need. That's what we did during the global financial crisis, preventing a recession and saving many jobs. It's about how you spend the money.
You'd think you'd get a lot for $100 billion, but this is a budget weighed down with rorts and waste. There are 21 funds either created or topped up in this budget, with some of the government's old favourites for rorts and pork-barrelling, including $250 million more for the Building Better Regions Fund, where we've seen 89 per cent of projects and funding between the 2019 election and the end of 2020 going to coalition seats. One hundred and twelve out of 330 projects in round 3 and 49 out of 163 projects in round 4 were approved by the Deputy Prime Minister's hand-picked ministerial panel against departmental recommendations. There was a $55 million top-up for the Community Development Grants Program, where 68 per cent of projects approved between the 2019 election and mid-January this year went to coalition seats. There are new ones such as the Preparing Australia Program, which has $600 million to be administered by the new National Recovery and Resilience Agency, ostensibly for a very good cause but at this stage having Minister Littleproud as the final decision-maker. Who is to know whether this fund will suffer the same fate as others?
This is not to mention the previous examples we have seen. Ninety-one per cent of the $30 million round 3 of the Safer Communities Fund went to government-held, Independent or marginal Labor seats, which involved rejecting the advice of experts and redirecting money to hand-picked projects. There were the infamous sports rorts and the colour coded spreadsheet, a program in which the ANAO found there was evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding and that the award of funding reflected the approach documented by the minister's office of focusing on marginal electorates held by the coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be targeted by the coalition in the 2019 election. Let us not forget the myriad waste examples. Over $6 million was spent on the COVIDSafe appropriate, which didn't work and hasn't been used in the majority of positive COVID cases. There's a question: how many cases have actually been traced by that app? What was the point of that spending? What has it helped with as we deal with COVID? Not much at all.
Ten million dollars was spent to create a new logo for spruiking Australian products at an international trade show which was junked. $2.5 million was spent on planning for a circumnavigation of Australia to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's voyage before it got cancelled. Billions of dollars was spent on contractors, consultants and labour hire. Millions were paid in the form of JobKeeper to companies that made profits or paid our dividends or executive bonuses.
This is a government that talks about using taxpayers' money carefully. What a disgraceful record they have on wasting that money. And yet their budget shows nothing for wages. They talk about the people that build prosperity and about taking risks and working hard. People who are working hard in this country are not supported. What thanks do hardworking Australians get for getting us through COVID? They get a budget that shows that wages are going to continue to go backwards under this government. There is nothing for wages, nothing for people on low incomes, no vision. It's not often you can spend $100 billion in one go—$200 billion in the course of two budgets—and not really be left with anything. There is nothing to show for it, but that's what this government has done. The government really has no plan other than getting to the next election. It's about doing the bare minimum to make what they see as political problems go away.
Here on this side of the House we don't see things as political problems. We don't see the aged-care crisis as a political problem. We see it as a genuine human problem that needs a genuine solution—a genuine solution that begins with addressing the fact that so many older Australians are malnourished and the fact that people working in aged care are grossly underpaid and undersupported in that work they're doing. They are central to the outcomes that we see in aged care. The money should be directed towards them, towards getting that right. Everyone can see that that's where part of the problem lies.
The fact is we need a change of government to address the real challenges facing Australia.
In the time remaining I want to thank everybody who has participated in CID for their questions—particularly the members for Ryan, Wentworth and Goldstein but of course all members who have contributed. In essence, a number of the questions asked focused on to what extent we were focused on our private sector led economy and recovery. Clearly, the data we saw on Friday, with an unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent, vindicate the decisions taken by this government.
I know figures like 5.1 per cent unemployment are not good for the opposition because it vindicates the decisions taken by the government. But it shows that backing the private sector, whether it's through measures such as instant asset write-off, tax loss carryback, lower tax rates for small businesses, helping them with their workforces with the apprenticeship wage subsidy or helping the residential construction industry with the HomeBuilder program, as we did in last year's pandemic response, have combined to ensure that Australian businesses can keep the foot on the economic accelerator. We have led the world with our economic response to COVID-19. It's vindicated those decisions. The decisions we've taken in the Finance portfolio with respect to what has been expansionary budget spending has ensured that not only those jobs are protected but also we have grown the economy. There are more Australians are jobs today than there were in March 2020. The unemployment rate is lower than when we inherited it from the Labor Party. The Labor Party have tried to draw an equivalence between the global financial crisis and the pandemic. The pandemic is 40 times worse economically. There is no equivalence that you can draw between the two. That's why we are right to continue with this strategy. We will continue to support a private sector that recovery of the Australian economy to ensure that we remain at the front of the pack.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Prime Minister and Cabinet
Proposed expenditure, $2,470,858,000
Australia's recovery from COVID-19 is well underway and the 2021-22 budget builds on our recovery. This budget will continue to create jobs, guarantee the essential services and build a more resilient and secure Australia. I will address this chamber on a number of important measures that has been led by the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. As the minister responsible for the National Office for Child Safety, I am proud the Morrison government is committed to protecting Australia's children and ensuring their safety and wellbeing in all settings. The budget committed an initial $146 million over four years for the first phase of the National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The measures lay the foundation for the landmark national strategy, which the Commonwealth is working with the states and territories to finalise for its full release in September 2021. The national strategy will be a 10-yea, whole-of-nation framework to establish a coordinated and consistent approach to preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. It was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and will itself implement numerous other recommendations.
The national strategy will focus on improving support services for victims and survivors, reducing shame and stigma to support help seeking, holding perpetrators to account and preventing first-time recurrent offending; raising awareness across all layers of society; and building the evidence base, including through data collection and linkage. This package includes $59.9 million worth of initiatives for the Australian Federal Police to combat child sexual abuse, including frontline operations activities; $24 million to strengthen capacity across acute perpetrators of child sexual abuse; $16.8 million for the Attorney-General's Department to enhance legal assistance concerning child sexual abuse; $13.9 million to Home Affairs to better equip intelligence, research and border protection agencies to disrupt the cash flow behind child sexual abuse, disrupt live-stream child sexual abuse and intercept material and offenders at the border, and enhance offender identification; $10.9 million for the National Indigenous Australians Agency to codesign place-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing approaches to support a victim survivors.
Building on last year's budget, the government announced a number of regulatory reforms to ensure that essential safeguards are maintained while making it easier to do business. The government is investing more than $120 million to further support deregulation, which will reduce compliance costs by an average of $430 million annually. This will be achieved by streamlining reporting under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme, benefiting more than 900 companies, reporting on 7,500 facilities every year and saving businesses $11.3 million annually; improving electronic monitoring systems to support approximately 1,220 commercial fishing operators to meet regulatory and data provision requirements; improving the technology neutrality of Treasury portfolio legislation; enabling easier communications between businesses, individuals and regulators; implementing automatic mutual recognition, resulting in savings to 124,000 Australians from having to obtain multiple occupational licenses; reducing the reporting requirements for around 1,180 private education providers who deliver courses to international students; providing additional assistance to small businesses with regtech solutions to help them comply with modern awards; and investing in improvements and maintenance for the employment contract tool, which helps small businesses employ their first person.
The Morrison government has set a goal for Australia to be a world-leading digital economy by 2030. Every business is now a digital business. Through the 2021-22 budget, we are investing almost $1.2 billion in Australia's digital future, through the Digital Economy Strategy. Key initiatives in the budget include over $100 million to support digital skills for Australians, $124 million to build capability in artificial intelligence and $200 million to overhaul myGov and enhance government services. There's a $301.8 million investment in My Health Record; tax incentives to drive business investment, including our new 30 per cent digital games tax offset and changes to the way businesses can claim depreciation for intangible assets like patents and in-house software; and support for small businesses to go digital, including an expansion of digital advisory services and support to encourage businesses' uptake of e-invoicing.
On 5 May 2021 we established the National Recovery and Resilience Agency to support local communities in recovering from large-scale disasters and to undertake new initiatives to manage the impact of future events. Establishing the agency is one part of our response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. It incorporates the functions of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency. From 1 July 2021, the agency will also include the disaster recovery and risk reduction functions within the Department of Home Affairs and the Rural Financial Counselling Service from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
I thank the Deputy Speaker for the opportunity to set out some of the portfolio budget and provide insights into how it will benefit our communities and the economy and the national interest.
My question is to the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet—the assistant minister representing a Prime Minister whose incompetence, lack of empathy and obsession with political marketing over policy substance is hurting Australians. Last year the Prime Minister presided over Australia's first recession in nearly 30 years. This was a recession made worse than it had to be by the policy failures of the Morrison government. This year the Prime Minister is repeating the mistakes of the past. He's mismanaging the response to COVID, bungling the vaccine rollout and bungling the need for quarantine facilities. That mismanagement is delaying Australia's economic recovery. It is squandering the opportunity to build back a better Australia after last year's economic and health crisis.
Prime Minister Morrison is failing the Australian people. The first fundamental failure of Prime Minister Morrison is that he refuses to take responsibility. The federal government is responsible for international quarantine—it's there in the Constitution—but Prime Minister Morrison has refused to do his job and implement federal quarantine facilities. Instead, he handballed the hotel system to the states and then blamed everyone else when things went awry. The federal government is responsible for aged-care regulation, but, when COVID-19 hit elderly Australians in nursing homes, Prime Minister Morrison blamed everyone else: he blamed the states; he blamed the aged-care workforce; he even blamed the families. Australians know a blame-shifter when they see one: never doing his job, never taking responsibility, never holding a hose and always finding someone else to blame for his own incompetence and carelessness.
The second fundamental failing of this Prime Minister is that's he's all announcement and no follow-up. He makes plenty of big announcements to get the headlines, but, once the media caravan has moved on, he fails to deliver. He junks the promises made to the Australian people and moves on to the next flashy announcement and piece of marketing spin. He is all talk, no action: no follow-through and no delivery. He is a shyster and a conman whose broken promises left Australians worse off. Before the 2019—
I withdraw. Before the 2019 federal election, he promised a $4 billion emergency response fund for natural disaster recovery and response initiatives. After the election, not a cent was spent from this fund during 2019-20, a year when thousands of Australians saw their homes and communities destroyed by bushfires. In January 2020, Prime Minister Morrison made another big announcement: a $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund. Eighteen months later, less than one per cent of the bushfire recovery funding announced for primary producer support, telecommunications upgrades and native wildlife rehabilitation has been released by the Morrison government.
The third failure of this Prime Minister is that he treats taxpayer money like Liberal Party money. Under this government we have seen the systematic misuse of taxpayer funds for the Prime Minister's political benefit. The sports rorts scandal, where the Prime Minister's office used grants that were meant for community sport organisations to bankroll Liberal Party election campaigning. The Leppington Triangle deal, where the Morrison government paid nearly $30 million for land in Western Sydney that was valued at only $3 million. The rorting of the Safer Communities Fund, where the minister siphoned money that was meant to be used for community safety and directed it to projects designed to bolster support for the Liberal Party.
Such is this government's contempt for taxpayers' funds and their preparedness to use it for their own political games, that the minister the Prime Minister blamed for sports rorts, Senator McKenzie, looks set to be returned to cabinet post the demise of Deputy Prime Minister McCormack. Such is the punishment for someone found misappropriating government funds for political advantage: they spend a year on the sidelines and then they return to cabinet. That's actually a grave punishment compared to what happened to the cabinet minister responsible for rorting the Safer Communities Fund. This is a program where the proceeds of crime money—literally blood money—which are there to protect victims were used to advance marginal seat interests. What happened to Minister Dutton, the minister responsible for it? He gets promoted to defence minister. With this cavalier attitude towards taxpayers' funds it is little wonder that the government is budgeting for debt to hit $981 billion in 2025. Nearly $1 trillion in national debt with no lasting benefits to show for it.
My question to the assistant minister is: does the Prime Minister understand that his refusal to take responsibility, his broken promises and his misuse of taxpayers' funds are all making life harder for Australians struggling with the impacts of the pandemic and the recession?
I'm very happy to participate in this consideration in detail. I want to make particular reference to the women's budget statement. I note that the 2021-22 budget has a landmark $3.4 billion package of new initiatives to improve outcomes for women's safety, economic security and leadership, and health and wellbeing. The government is investing $1.1 billion in funding for women's safety, $1.9 billion in initiatives to support women's workforce participation and economic security, and $351.6 million in health and wellbeing initiatives.
I've been asked a couple of times over the last month why we need a separate women's budget statement. On the issue of safety, the facts are that women are more likely than men to be victims of family, domestic and sexual violence. As we have seen this year, physical and sexual abuse against women is not something that happens somewhere else. It is not limited by demographics, by suburbs or by professions; it can and it does happen anywhere. Anytime or anywhere it happens, it is wrong. According to official statistics and surveys undertaken by the ABS and other bodies over the last five years, on average one woman is killed every nine days in Australia. One in four women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous intimate partner since the age of 15. The rate of police recorded sexual assaults against women is almost seven times higher than that for men. Approximately one in two women aged 18 and over have experienced sexual harassment over their lifetime, and nearly 40 per cent have experienced it in the workplace over the last five years. One in six women will experience financial abuse in their lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic, sadly, coincided with an onset or escalation of violence and abuse against women, with two-thirds of women who had experienced it during the pandemic saying it had either started or escalated during this time. These are appalling statistics. There never was, is not now and never will be any justification for any form of violence against women. This should be the only answer needed as to why we need to invest significant money, focus and effort in addressing women's safety.
On the issue of women's economic security, the facts are that, despite women participating in higher education more than men, and having done so for the entirety of this century, women still only hold 18.3 per cent of CEO positions in Australia, only 14 per cent of board chairs and 30 per cent of all board positions. Women are paid less than men, and women, on average, have 22 per cent less in their super balances at retirement.
As someone who believes firmly in equality of opportunity, individual choice and individual responsibility I can happily accept that there will be differences in outcomes between people where those differences arise out of people's own decisions and actions in life and provided that they represent outcomes of real choice and real opportunity, but these statistics are underpinned by evidence that there are still hurdles and barriers that are impacting on women's capacity to make real choices and be equal and full participants. There are still limitations on that goal of real choice and real opportunity, which limits the ability of women to fully realise their potential.
Full and open participation of women is a matter of social and economic necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted women through the escalation of violence, abuse and economic insecurity. It also highlighted the importance of women's workforce participation to our economic recovery and prosperity. The Women's Budget Statement has initiatives to combat violence against women, tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, further increase women's participation, narrow the gender pay gap, give families greater choice and flexibility to manage work and care, increase women's financial security and improve women's health and wellbeing. I ask the minister to outline how the initiatives in the 2021-22 budget will deliver practical and real outcomes for women in Australia.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic communities right across our nation have turned to the government—the public sector—for essential services, support and expert health guidance. The pandemic has proven once again what Labor has always known: a fair and just society needs a strong and effective public sector. The success of the Australian people at managing this unprecedented health crisis, in which they have put the wellbeing of their fellow citizens first, has been supported every step of the way by public institutions and hardworking public servants across every jurisdiction. However, the COVID pandemic has also brought into stark relief the Liberal-National government's flawed and failed approach to managing our federal public sector and its workforce over the past eight years.
The regrettable reality is that, since coming to office in 2013, the Liberal-National government, irrespective of who has been the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, has been steadfastly engaged in privatisation by stealth of the Commonwealth Public Service. Their record speaks for itself. They cut more than 12,000 federal Public Service jobs before the pandemic hit while simultaneously increasing wasteful spending on expensive consultants, contractors and labour hire firms to do work previously performed more cost effectively by public servants. This is a direct result of the Liberal-National government's ideologically driven approach to the Public Service, which has been exemplified by its commitment to an arbitrary and damaging staffing cap. It is this policy that has made it effectively impossible since 2013 for key service delivery agencies, such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs and Services Australia, to directly employ the APS workers they have needed to deliver the quality services Australians deserve. Because the cap does not apply to outsourced labour, where agencies have needed more workers they have been forced by the government's myopic policies to engage private labour hire firms, contractors and multinational consulting firms, even though it has been proven time and again that it is demonstrably cheaper and more effective to build up in-house capability within the Public Service.
You need look no further for the impacts of this policy than the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which last year confirmed that 42 per cent of its workforce, including more than 50 per cent of its claims-processing staff, were being sourced through labour hire companies. This overreliance on labour hire has delayed and disrupted critical services to our veterans, due to staff turnover and the loss of expertise and experience when temporary employees leave. It's also coming at a considerable cost to Australian taxpayers. Evidence at Senate estimates in March showed that the DVA has entered into more than $141 million of labour hire contracts in the six months to 31 December 2020 alone. We know from multiple agencies that the cost of labour hire is frequently well above the cost of ongoing public servants. This isn't just Labor's view; it's also the view of the Prime Minister's hand-picked reviewer of the APS, David Thodey.
The Independent Review of the APS headed by Dr Thodey delivered its final report in December 2019, explicitly linking declining APS capability to staffing caps and the increasing reliance on contractors and consultants to perform work that had previously been performed internally. The final review said:
That review unequivocally called for the abolition of the staffing cap and a far more critical approach by the government to the use of non-APS labour to deliver public services, especially the associated costs, yet the government remains stubbornly committed to its staffing cap policy that is driving poor outcomes.
The government has also failed to take any meaningful action to quantify the cost of its use of private labour in delivering public services, let alone take any action to contain this rapidly escalating cost. That's despite finance minister Simon Birmingham telling The Daily Telegraph:
… the government has accepted, after careful case-by-case assessments, including in some areas of new investment such as aged care and veterans, that it is more efficient and effective to use ongoing staff.
So my question to the minister today is: given the Minister for Finance's omission of Mr Thodey's extensive review along with the evidence from the department and experts, are you persisting with a staffing cap policy that distorts agency decisions and costs Australians more? And, Minister, why does the government continue to be wilfully blind to the growing costs of consultancy for work that was previously done by the Public Service?
I'm delighted to reflect on some key budget initiatives within Prime Minister and Cabinet—the area that we're considering today, following on from the member for Tangney, the assistant minister—and really emphasise that we have absolutely made this budget a landmark budget about women, with $3.4 billion in new measures to improve outcomes for women's safety, economic security, health and wellbeing. That, of course, includes our $1.1 billion in funding for women's safety, the biggest ever investment by a Commonwealth government; $1.9 billion to support women's economic security, including $1.7 billion to improve the affordability of child care for Australian families; and $351 million for women's health and wellbeing.
Our approach to developing this Women's Budget Statement has been informed by our values of respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice, and these are fundamental to the safety and economic security of women in Australia. Through the package of bills on the government's investment for women in Australia, including under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and the 2018 and 2020 women's economic security statements, everyone has a basic right to safety, equality and respect in our society. We all have a responsibility to address gender imbalances in Australia and create real change and genuine advancements for women and girls.
We are committing more than $400 million across a range of measures to provide additional legal assistance funding for women, to boost investment in children's contact services, to reduce safety risks and to expand family advocacy support services. These measures include $129 million in additional legal funding to women's legal centres to help women access justice. This funding will be directed to women's legal centres to enable these providers to respond to the increasing demand for domestic violence assistance.
An extra $101 million will be put towards children's contact services to reduce safety risks to family law system users, including the establishment of an additional 20 children's contact services. When you look at separated families, desperate to see their children, waiting in queues to have access to their children through children's contact services, I know just how important these 20 new centres will be. Almost $85 million will be invested in the family advocacy and support services to maintain, enhance and expand access to their services. More than $60 million will fund the reform of family law case management in the federal family courts to improve outcomes and better meet the needs of families and children.
The government will invest an additional $9 million to further implement the recommendations made in the Respect@Work report. The Attorney-General spoke in detail on this. I thank the member for Curtin, who's with me in the Chamber, for her close involvement in getting this response right, which we have done. We now have a Roadmap for Respect. It drives amendments to improve the legal and regulatory responses to workplace sexual harassment and includes interim funding to continue the targeted delivery of support for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment while the government consults with the states and territories. That's our commitment in our Roadmap for Respect. We're also investing $5 million over three years to build evidence and further develop primary prevention initiatives to respond to sexual harassment. We'll also invest $6 million over four years for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to work with the Respect@Work Council and extend reporting to the Australian public sector.
Women's workforce participation is a social and economic priority. It's critical to Australia's recovery from COVID. That's why we've prioritised investment in child care. The budget includes targeted measures to increase choice and flexibility for women addressing barriers to working in the paid workforce and to support women to build financially secure futures. As part of our plan to secure Australia's recovery, we're investing an additional $1.7 billion in child care, building on around $10 billion already provided annually. We are removing the child care subsidy annual cap, and, starting in July 2022, increasing childcare subsidies will be available to families with two or more young children, benefiting around 250,000 families by giving them greater choice and flexibility to manage work and care. The child care measure is so important. As a former minister for child care, I know that families are counting on us and we are delivering.
We're investing money for National Careers Institute partnership grants; we're investing in women in STEM, to really encourage young women to take up science, technology, engineering and maths; and we're focused on improving retirement outcomes for women. This budget demonstrates our continued commitment to creating more opportunities for Australian women.
My questions are directed to the minister representing the Minister for Women in the chamber today. I'd like to give a little bit of background to the so-called Women's Budget Statement and where we sit today in terms of addressing the real drivers of gender inequality in Australia. Let us not forget that Australia has fallen from 24th spot to 44th spot in the global gender equality rankings since the government was elected in 2013. That is Australia's worst result on record. We have fallen also from 13th spot to 49th spot on the economic participation and opportunity rankings. We have fallen from 69th spot to 104th spot on health and survival—worse than Turkey, Pakistan and Estonia.
The government has neglected and underfunded the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The government has failed to respond to or implement the recommendations in a long list of reports that have laid on government ministers' desks without response. First off, let's look at the 2016 COAG report on reducing violence against women and their children. We could look at the 2018 COAG summit statement, the 2019 Law Reform Commission report on family violence or the 2020 national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. We could look at A husband is not a retirement plan, the report of the Senate inquiry into women's economic security and employment back in 2016. We could go to the report of the inquiry into gender segregation in the workforce and its impact on women's economic equality—another Senate inquiry on causes of the gender pay gap. We could look at a committee that I have sat on since 2013 which has issued a number of reports—and I note that the chair now also shares with me a place on this committee—and that is the Social Policy and Legal Affairs committee. It issued a report on its inquiry into the family law system to better support and protect those affected by family violence. That was a report I handed down to this government at least three years ago from memory. A more recent one, which the Deputy Speaker and I handed down just before Easter, was the report of our inquiry into family domestic and sexual violence. There has only now been a response to the Human Rights Commission's Respect@Work report because of the extraordinary pressure that has been brought to bear on this government, rightly so, following the horrific allegations of sexual harassment that has taken place in this building and the government's extremely poor management on that front.
If we were under any doubt as to why Australian women voters have concerns about this government, we might also look at the ongoing steadfast refusal to support paid leave for women escaping family and domestic violence. Requests from the sector and women across Australia for 10 days paid leave into the National Employment Standards has been well documented, but there has been nothing from this government—no support whatsoever. Instead they have attempted to make women in crisis drain their superannuation accounts to fund their own escape plans from violent relationships. This year, for the first time ever since the now infamous minister for women Mr Tony Abbott scrapped the gendered budget statement, we've got a Women's Budget Statement in name only. This government has failed to recognise that there is a process called gender-responsive budgeting. It goes to deep structural inequalities, saying that every decision government makes about the way it collects its revenue and distributes its revenue should be run past a gender lens analysis. That is not part of this Women's Budget Statement. Let's not pretend this holds a candle to what we expect women's budget statements to look like in the future. I know we are limited for time, so I ask the minister whether or not she intends to reinstate a truly gendered lens in the future. (Time expired)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make an opening statement on behalf of the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. The 2021-22 budget ensures Indigenous Australians are fully part of the Morrison government's plan to secure Australia's economic recovery through delivering the support they need to build skills, address barriers, find employment, nurture thriving families and ensure their communities are safer, healthier and more resilient. In line with our approach under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, we have galvanised every portfolio to play a role in improving the lives of Indigenous Australians.
Of the total appropriations for the portfolio, $1.9 billion relates to Indigenous affairs, with funding provided to the National Indigenous Australians Agency, Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Indigenous Business Australia, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. We will deliver a $243.6 million Indigenous Skills and Jobs Advancement package to improve economic, social and education outcomes for Indigenous Australians. This package includes $128.4 million over three years for a new Indigenous Skills and Employment Program, $63.5 million to expand Indigenous girls academies programs across Australia, $36.7 million in increased support for prescribed bodies corporate as well as $15 million in targeted grant programs to improve food security and economic outcomes for remote communities.
The Morrison government is committed to closing the gap in employment and economic participation for Indigenous Australians. These new initiatives will invest in skills and training and will contribute to economic recovery and growth for Indigenous Australians following the COVID-19 pandemic. The Morrison government is also providing $111 million for the Community Development Program to meet the increased case load resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as developing a new Remote Jobs Program to replace the CDP from 2023. There is now a great opportunity for Indigenous remote communities to come together to influence and co-design the new Remote Jobs Program in partnership with the government, with pilots to commence later this year.
As part of the Women's Safety Package, the NIAA will receive $26 million over four years to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children who have experienced or are experiencing family violence, of which $17 million will expand family violence prevention legal services. These measures build on the Morrison government's continued commitment to the $5.7 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy, helping to secure Australia's recovery by driving significant progress on a wide range of social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Morrison government is proud to support a range of measures across all portfolios in the 2021-22 budget, both mainstream and targeted to provide further investments to deliver support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in achieving their goals. Across the Commonwealth portfolios, Indigenous Australians will benefit from further measures to ensure strong and safe Indigenous families and households, address Indigenous mental health in our communities, protect Indigenous land and promote Indigenous culture. These include $79 million over four years under the mental health package and $117.2 million over four years to establish a national database on service delivery performance and outcomes across the mental health system. Part of the $58.8 million in funding initiatives to attract, upskill and redistribute mental health professionals will also be used to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers.
As part of the Women's Economic Security Package, $13.9 million is being directed to support Indigenous women to start social enterprises, improving their safety and economic security. Eleven point six million dollars over four years will expand and create new Indigenous protected areas that will provide greater coverage of sea country to protect marine biodiversity and create additional employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Two point two million dollars will be provided to build the capacity of the Northern Land Council to facilitate land use agreements and drive economic opportunities in the Beetaloo Sub-basin.
The Morrison government believes in working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to make local decisions and in providing the support needed to deliver better life outcomes for Indigenous Australians. Further measures will also be released midyear in line with the delivery of the Commonwealth's first Closing the Gap implementation plan. Thank you for the opportunity to set out some of the highlights of our 2021-22 budget measures, combined with the Morrison government's commitment to transform the way government works with Indigenous Australians. This budget will empower them to get a great start in life, stay safe and healthy, secure employment and contribute to Australia's recovery.
I thank the assistant minister for reading so eloquently such a speech, which I know he didn't write and knows very little about.
A government member: That's very rude of you!
But it's nevertheless true. I do want to apologise, however, for the member for Barton, who is not able to be here. She is out of Canberra at the moment. I was hoping that the minister would be here to be able to respond personally to the issues that we wish to raise.
Thirteen years ago, the Australian government embarked on a great national effort to close the gap and end the disparity between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians. Thirteen years later—eight of those years having been under the coalition government—five of the seven targets have not been met. The government has now refreshed the targets with 17 new ones, but, extraordinarily, we have seen no new funding for closing the gap in this year's budget. The Prime Minister described closing the gap as the 'ultimate test of our efforts'. He said of closing the gap that his government was 'making that commitment real'. Well, let's see the evidence of it.
If we want to see real progress on this critical national effort, we need to see it backed by a genuine commitment and adequate funding from this government. So I would ask the minister if he were here: how could it be that funding for the national effort is left out of the nation's pre-eminent financial document, this budget? Minister, you're not here, so you won't tell me, but nevertheless it's a question.
I note that funding for the referendum on constitutional recognition remains in the budget. It was first included in the 2019-20 budget papers. It's been almost two years since the minister addressed the National Press Club to commit to a referendum within this term of parliament. We haven't seen that yet. It's been over four years since the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which outlined the desires of First Nations people for a greater say on the decisions and laws that impact upon them through a constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament as well as a national process to oversee treaty-making and truth-telling. It has been 5½ years since the appointment of the Referendum Council and almost a decade and a half—14 years—since the former member for Bennelong said in 2007:
I believe we must find room in our national life to formally recognise the special status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first peoples of our nation. We must recognise the distinctiveness of Indigenous identity and culture and the right of Indigenous people to preserve that heritage.
… … …
I will put to the Australian people within 18 months a referendum to formally recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution …
That was 2007. The government has asked First Nations people for their vision and the government was given it. They responded through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Australians will be forgiven for thinking this government is cynically dragging its feet.
My second question to the government: Minister, when will the government deliver on its commitment to hold the referendum for the recognition of First Nations people in our Constitution and when will the government present a model to Australians on its First Nations voice to parliament or government?
I want to reiterate that the Uluru statement contained two further elements—namely, the process of agreement or treaty-making as well as truth-telling through a makarrata commission. Minister, if you're not here, I hope you're listening. Truth-telling is crucial to understanding how the events and trauma of the past are inextricably linked to the challenges of the present. There can be, as you well know, no true reconciliation without truth-telling. With the preoccupation with the discussion around the voice to parliament, we cannot and must not forget these second and third elements of the Uluru statement.
Labor is the only party to support the Uluru statement in full, and it's committed to realising the statement in its entirety. In February, my colleague Senator Patrick Dodson moved a motion in the Senate for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to explore options for a national truth-telling and treaty-making process. The government, sadly, voted it down. What a disgrace. So my final question, to the government is this: Minister, how will the government act to fulfil the second and third elements of the Uluru statement, the express aspiration for a national process for treaty-making and truth-telling? When will you do it?
I note the contribution from the member for Lingiari and absolutely respect his position on all of these issues and his experience in this area—his knowledge and experience over a long period of time, as he referred to John Howard and his commitment at the head of his government to first moot recognising the Indigenous Australians in our Constitution back in 2007. There is a commitment of both Labor and coalition governments to closing the gap, and over 13 years we've been trying. It's been more trying than we have been able to stand here before you and say, 'Look what we've done.' In fact, I can go back to Kevin Rudd and his disappointment in our performance.
We respect, as I have respected, the member for Lingiari for his knowledge in this area and his memory of what leaders of our nation have said. I'm sure that, every time they said it, it was heartfelt and deliberate on behalf of their government representing our nation. When you hear the words that John Howard said and Kevin Rudd said and leaders of opposition said in support of what those leaders said, there has been no less desire to respect the Indigenous peoples of Australia, but our respect has not carried through to delivery. If there's no respect—if we cannot respect the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country to be at least recognised in the Australian Constitution, as John Howard outlined and as the member for Lingiari described a few minutes ago—how can we progress? If there is no respect between us and the Indigenous communities we represent, and if there is no respect from them to us because we've never given them a reason to respect us, we can't progress; we can't go forward.
I have openly, along with a number of my colleagues, supported the Uluru statement, in full—no stepping back, but accepting it in full. But this then demands the respect of the Australian people of this parliament to deliver on their behalf. Quite often, my constituents will say to me: 'We elected you to make decisions on our behalf. We don't want to have to stand back here in the electorate and make decisions.' When I go to them and I say: 'What do you think about this issue or that issue?' they say: 'You're actually elected to make the hard decisions.'
But sometimes, I don't roll with the mob, whatever the mob are doing, because, when you've got the experience of the member for Lingiari, and perhaps my experience in this place as well, you do have regard for the passage of time, and the healing time that it takes to deal with a lot of issues. You've got to come to a position of absolute respect for the Indigenous communities the length and breadth of the nation, and to look at the nation as a nation—as I did in the parliament today, talking about Christians who are oppressed across the world—and say, 'Well, what are we doing here, in our own land, if we've got this schism between our communities?' That respect goes back 60,000 years. You've got to look at our nation as a nation 60,000 years old, not 250 years old, and to recognise and respect them as an absolutely integral part of our thinking. When we come to that space and we come to that place of respect, we may have an opportunity to move forward.
I acknowledge the contribution just made, and I acknowledge its sincerity and the member's sincerity, as well as the contribution made by the member for Lingiari on this consideration in detail. One of the ideas that the previous speaker, the member for Monash, just raised was around time: the time that it takes to get progress on these issues and the time that it takes to not just close the gap but heed the call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Time is important, because we have made Australia's Indigenous people wait too long. In this country, making them wait and introducing delays in answering and heeding the call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is as critical as saying no in the first place. I think we all would agree that the time it took for this country to have its first Indigenous Australian serving as the minister for Aboriginal affairs was too long, but we all welcomed it and we all welcomed the fact that the minister was that person who was able to perform his duties in that portfolio. But, within days and hours of that minister giving his speech at the Press Club in July 2019, his efforts and his vision for the Uluru Statement from the Heart were undermined by the Prime Minister.
This government has not given its full backing to this minister to realise his vision in this policy area. As the previous member, the member for Monash, and the member for Lingiari correctly stated, it was in the Press Club that the minister said that he wanted to bring a referendum to the Australian people. That is the only way that we are going to change the Constitution, the very document that defines who we are as a country and our history. This government knows that the only way that is possible is if it has the full backing of the government and the full backing of the opposition, with everyone working together in order to make it a possibility. That is why timing is so important. That is why not putting the full resources of the government behind this cause in answering the Uluru Statement from the Heart is as good as saying no.
So the most pressing question that we have for the government is: Why is this thing taking so long? Why does it take so long to put the resources and the effort of the government behind a cause that we should all be united on? Why is it taking the government so long to say yes and to commit themselves fully to the three parts of the Uluru Statement from the Heart? The problem is that, if we let this get away, term after term, the Uluru Statement from the Heart will become more and more distant in the past. We, as custodians for the short period that we get to occupy these privileged roles, will look back and say, 'We were part of the problem, we were part of the delays and we weren't part of the government and the opposition and the parliamentarians that got this done at that time.' So the question that we have for the government is: please, will you try to speed things up, to speed up the urgency within the government?
I am going to pay tribute to a senator, Senator Bragg, who has written about this. It is difficult to speak up inside your own party room when there isn't the momentum for it. I would acknowledge him, because he has added his voice to this, and we need more to do the same. We need more to have urgency and we need more to ensure that time doesn't continue to pass without the Uluru Statement from the Heart being answered in full.
I shall do, at your request. I understand the comments the member for Macnamara has made. I wasn't in the chamber for the member for Lingiari's comments, but I have no doubt, given his long time in his electorate and his close relationship to his local Indigenous people, that it was probably much along the lines of what the member for Macnamara had to say. I would like to acknowledge the member for Lingiari and his work over many years. I know he will be sadly missed, heading into his retirement.
I would like to focus more practically, in the short time I have to speak on the appropriation bill, on the Indigenous Affairs portfolio and some of the stuff that we're doing locally in my community of Forde. The Indigenous population represents about three to four per cent of my electorate. There are some key Indigenous organisations in my electorate that I have quite a bit to do with. Whether it is the Yugambeh Museum in Beenleigh, the Beenleigh Housing and Development Company or the various elders groups, all these groups do a tremendous amount across my electorate not only to improve the wellbeing and the outcomes for the local Indigenous community but also, importantly, to work to build a bridge between our local Indigenous community and the broader community. There are people like Peter Eather, the chairperson and president of Beenleigh Housing and Development Company; Will Davis, the CEO of Beenleigh Housing and Development Company; Rory O'Connor, who runs the Yugambeh Museum and is involved in a lot of work in the language space; and the team at Spirits of the Red Sand and the tourism work that they're doing in that space.
I look with pride across the work that all of these groups do, at the effort that they put in each and every day for their people, for the Indigenous people who have been part of our country for 60,000 years. They want to ensure that they maintain the language. They want to ensure that they are able to tell the stories of their people not just for the current generations but for the generations to come. It is critically important that those stories continue to be told, as it provides a foundation for the future of their culture.
On the first constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice, I remember back at Garma, in north-east Arnhem Land, where the member for Lingiari, Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and I sat around a table with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It was pretty sad because there was a leader who didn't have the fortitude to take this issue and, basically, have the debate and advocate for this very important issue. Eighty per cent of the respondents had said very clearly that a First Nations voice was required. Those opposite obviously got rid of that Prime Minister anyway. Despite slamming the door on what the Uluru Statement from the Heart actually called for, the government has engaged in a consultative process on the design of an Indigenous voice. We're currently in the midst of that process.
As I've mentioned, 80 per cent of the over 3,000 submissions—and they are incredibly important—said that the First Nations National Constitutional Convention and the First Nations voices that have contributed to this process have acted in good faith and with the best interests of their own communities at heart. What they said clearly is that a constitutionally enshrined voice is what is required. The government needs to reciprocate the strong voice in those submissions.
I offer two questions to the minister. Firstly, it's my understanding that up to 80 per cent of the submissions support the enshrinement of the Indigenous voice in the Constitution. If this is not the case, how many submissions from this consultation process support the enshrinement of the Indigenous voice into our Constitution? Secondly, if the figure of supporting submissions is as high as 80 per cent, will the government commit to listening to the people and acting to enshrine the Indigenous voice in our nation's Constitution? I think those questions are very important. Will this process that was entered into in good faith by First Nations people around this country be honoured? We on this side hope that it will and look forward to the minister's response to those two questions.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Remainder of bill—by leave—taken as a whole and agreed to.
Bill agreed to.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.