House debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Whitlam proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The failure of the government to manage the economy in the interests of working people and small business.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

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

The Prime Minister of Australia is an economic failure. He was the last person in Australia to learn that a health strategy in the middle of a pandemic is an economic policy. He is the root cause of the pandemic and lockdown misery that is ripping its way through eastern Australia. His negligence is costing Australia and the Australian economy $3.2 billion every week. That's $19 million every hour. The nation is divided, and he is the cause of it. Western Sydney is at a flashpoint right now—divisions, small businesses on their knees, the health system in crisis. In my electorate and in the Illawarra, according to Regional Development Australia, we have lost 10,400 jobs through this latest wave of COVID-19. Our unemployment rate is estimated to be 12.4 per cent. Small businesses are in real trouble. They aren't getting JobKeeper, and JobSaver payments simply aren't coming through. With insufficient support for small businesses, they are closing their doors.

The Prime Minister's answer to this bin fire that he has started in New South Wales and Victoria is to pick a fight with the two big states that aren't actually in lockdown. Can you imagine what the people in Western Australia are thinking today? Yesterday it was announced that they're getting the AFL grand final, a big economic boost to that state. But, at the very same time, the Prime Minister, who makes a habit of protecting the Neanderthals on his own backbench, is comparing Western Australians to cave dwellers. In Queensland, today and tomorrow and the next day, kids are going home from school in the normal fashion. On the weekend they'll be participating in school sport. In the evening they'll be going to a restaurant or a club. They'll be going to a pub. On Sunday they'll be going to church and they'll be going to places of worship. But this Prime Minister's answer to the bin fire that's going on in New South Wales and has spread to Victoria is somehow to blame the people and the premiers of Queensland and Western Australia who are quite rightly trying to protect the public health and the small businesses in those states. He is the bloke who starts the bushfire and then starts telling the people who are trying to put the bushfire out to put down the hose. If this Prime Minister wants to know what a dangerous and ignorant cave dweller looks like, he should grab a mirror. Eight long years and no economic plan—

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. The minister on a point of order.

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

The member knows full well that imputations upon members is not within the standing orders. He's been here long enough.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member will withdraw the imputation.

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

I withdraw. Eight long years and no economic plan. If you're an ordinary working Australian and you look at economic policy, the things that matter to you are the ability to put a roof over your head—a house you can call home—a steady job that gives you the ability to pay your bills, hope that your kids will get a good education and set them up for good jobs in the future, hope that the government gets the big calls right and puts the interests of Australians ahead of their own political interests, and hope that the government is going to put the country's interest first. But instead of all of that, we've got a government that has racked up record deficits and record debt with nothing to show for it.

At the very time the Prime Minister was congratulating himself about how well the economy was going, just a few short weeks ago, real wages in this country actually went backwards by two per cent. The Prime Minister was saying the economy was going gangbusters, but ordinary Australians were finding it harder to pay for the things that they need on a daily and weekly basis. There's a housing crisis. Parents around the country today are wondering whether their kids will ever be able to afford a house, put a roof over their head and call it their home. We've had a boom in insecure work. One in five jobs are now so insecure that people find it almost impossible to get access to credit or to even dream of a day when they'll be able to get a mortgage to buy their own home. We've seen a crash in productivity. The trade deals that this mob brag about are not worth the ink they are written with. The very moment when it matters the most, the very moment when we think these trade deals should matter, they fall apart, and this government thinks it's a great idea to go and pick a fight with our biggest trade partners.

This is the mob that call themselves great economic managers. They are abject failures. They are looking after themselves and not the people of Australia. They've put $4 billion in the last budget away in secret slush funds so they can repeat the travesties that Australians have been horrified by over the last few months. The Leppington Triangle—this mob who say they are so good with money spent $30 million on a parcel of land you could have picked up for $3 million. Tell me again how good you are at managing money! The sports rorts and the 'pork and ride'. At the time when we're looking for infrastructure projects that are going to set us up for the future, this mob's idea of nation-building infrastructure is six car parks in the Treasurer's own electorate, most of which will never get built.

They have no plan for the future. A government that was interested in ensuring that we were going to get out of this pandemic and out of this economic crisis in better shape than we went into it would have a plan for the future. But this Prime Minister's just got a plan for the next election.

We've got a skills crisis in this country, and we've got a productivity crisis in this country. If you want to set yourselves up for the future, what will drive the future is going to be investment in skills, investment in ideas and ensuring that we've got the energy to drive industry. But this mob over here are afraid of new ideas and they're afraid of the causes of new ideas. There is no other explanation for a government that in the middle of a pandemic, when we should be rebuilding and retraining, rips the guts out of our university system and rips the guts out of our vocational education and training system. Instead of training our kids, instead of ensuring that we are using this crisis as an opportunity to build the capital and ensure that our kids have the skills for the future, their big plan is to hope for the day when we can open the borders up again and bring in skilled tradespeople from overseas. Australians want this government to train our own kids, to ensure that they are fit for the jobs that are going to get us out of this pandemic and not be relying on the lazy pathway, divesting in our universities and divesting in our vocational education and training. This mob have no plan for the future.

The core message that this mob are going to take to the next election is that things were going very well until the pandemic came along. The fact is that they weren't. They had doubled the debt before the pandemic, and they have tripled it now. We saw business investment falling off a cliff, wages at a 10-year low and productivity going backwards, and the simple fact of the matter is that they've got no plan to get us out of this mess. Their core message at the next election is going to be: 'Trust us. Things were going well before COVID, and they'll go well somehow, magically, after COVID'!

We've seen enough of this lot. You can't trust the bloke who started the fire to put it out. That is the simple fact of the matter. You can't trust the bloke who started the fire to put it out. He won't hold a hose, and he's got no plan for the future.

3:27 pm

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

It's all hyperbole today, the same rubbish talking points we've heard, year in, year out, from an opposition with no ideas. Today's matter of public importance, a matter that the Labor opposition believe is of such importance at a time when the national accounts have come out showing our economy in such strength considering the position we're in, is to talk about a failure to manage the economy! So let's speak about the economy, not gesticulating and hand waving like the member for Whitlam does, thinking that blustering noise and volume alone substitute for hard facts and realism. Let's go to the hard facts from today.

From the national accounts: nominal GDP growth was strong for the financial year and increased 4.1 per cent ahead of the budget forecast of 3¼ per cent. Real GDP grew by 0.7 per cent in the June quarter, a staggering 9.6 per cent higher throughout the year and the strongest through-the-year rate on record. Growth was stronger than market expectations and ahead of what was forecast, with reputed economists forecasting a 0.1 drop to a 0.7 realisation. Our economy is now 1.6 per cent above it's prepandemic level, with the recovery continuing to lead the pack ahead of advanced economies. And this apparently is the failure of the government's economic approach—extraordinary!

Household consumption increased 1.1 per cent to the June quarter, contributing 0.6 percentage points to GDP, up 15.4 per cent through the year. Consumption increased in 12 out of 17 categories. New business investment rose by 2.3 per cent in the June quarter, with continuing strength in new machinery and equipment investment, increasing 2.4 per cent to a staggering 19.5 per cent higher throughout the year. Since the October budget, investment in new machinery and equipment has increased 22.4 per cent, a staggering increase right across the board, from tradies to small and family businesses through to the medium- and large-business sector. It is the strongest period of growth since 2002, but those opposite believe that it's a failure of the government to manage the economy. It's the strongest period of growth since 2002, with almost 115,000 jobs created in the quarter and the unemployment rate now below pre pandemic, below March 2020. This is the only industrialised nation on earth that's got more of its citizens in employment now than pre pandemic. Apparently, though, there's a failure of the government, except we're the only industrialised nation on earth to have more of its citizens employed. I say to those opposite: wake up, and have a look. Household gross disposable income continues to be supported by the government's tax relief, with a further $3.8 billion flowing to more than 11 million households.

We have a vaccination program that continues at enormous speed, with over 300,000 doses administered per day. Today it is likely we'll move towards 20 million doses having been given. This is one of the reasons that we've laid out a national plan. The state premiers and the territory leaders have agreed to the national plan, and we call on all of our state and territory leaders to continue to adhere to the national plan. The national plan is our national hope. It gives hope to individuals in our small- and family business sector. It gives them the confidence to plan. The current phase we're in has got a range of measures, including lockdowns that are hurting so much. As we move to 70 per cent of adults aged 16 and over having been fully vaccinated, we'll move to a transition phase and then, at 80 per cent, to a consolidation phase. The consolidation phase is about living with the virus and minimising serious illness and deaths. Measures may include lifting inbound and outbound travel restrictions for vaccinated Australians and students, workers and humanitarian visa holders being able to return. There will be baseline community restrictions only—that is, getting back to life and allowing us to plan. That's why the national plan is so important.

Whilst right now there are restrictions imposed through state based public health orders, the federal government is stepping up and providing much needed support. Despite the national accounts to June showing the strength of our economy and the record numbers of Australians getting jobs, the support continues to roll out. As at midnight on 31 August over 1.8 million Australians had received a COVID disaster payment, with $5.14 billion going to citizens in need and 52,000 claims for COVID disaster payment being processed by 31 August 2021. Since 1 July, 1.7 million claims have been granted for New South Wales alone, and the list goes on. The support measures for business, especially the small to medium enterprises and the small and family businesses, are extraordinary. COVID-19 disaster payments are lump-sum payments for workers unable to work, with eligible workers now receiving up to $750 a week, if they lose 20 hours or more, and $450, if they lose between eight and 20 hours. Small-business support is also offered outside of New South Wales across every state and territory on a fifty-fifty funding basis with the Commonwealth. We're helping businesses to employ staff by providing wage subsidies of 50 per cent of an apprentice's or a trainee's wage, with $3.9 billion in the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme. Upwards of 200,000 apprentices are coming through the scheme, which is expected to support over 70,000 employers. It is the single biggest kick-up that we have looked at in the last decade across the apprenticeship space.

We've introduced new insolvency frameworks to help small to medium enterprises to restructure. Through the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, we're providing guarantees of 50 per cent to lenders for new unsecured loans, and guarantees of 80 per cent are available for firms that were previously on JobKeeper through the SME Recovery Loan Scheme. We're increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 for assets that were previously purchased. Business investment and economic growth are benefitting from advanced depreciation. We're providing temporary full expenses incentives and cash-flow support through temporary loss carry-backs. Increased mental health funding support for small-business owners is, I think, one thing we can all genuinely agree is so important in terms of mental health support for those who are finding it difficult. There is targeted assistance for severely impacted regions. We are extending digital solutions, including the Australian Small Business Advisory Service, to include general business advice for ongoing digital. We are backing in the Go Local First campaign to encourage businesses. On top of that: for small to medium-sized enterprises, from 1 July this year their tax rate went from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. It will progressively go down from 30 per cent over a number of years, but it is now down to 25 per cent. That is extraordinary for small businesses.

We're improving payment times by ensuring that bills are paid on time. From 1 July we are paying invoices of up to a million dollars within 20 days. That's the government's commitment to what it's doing with small businesses. We are requiring large businesses and certain government enterprises with a total income of over $100 million to report on how and when they pay small businesses. We will change the law so that the ATO cannot commence recovery against small business whilst there's a dispute in place. This government has put in place a small-business court within the AAT, where there are no lawyers. If you're going up against the ATO, there are no lawyers, there are judgements within 28 days and there is a set fee under $1,000 so that someone can go in and get quick justice.

This is what this government is doing to stand up and support small and medium-sized enterprise businesses. We're not sitting on our hands, looking at the current account numbers coming through and going, 'Those numbers aren't bad; the economy and the fundamentals are strong.' We are continuing to do more and more to assist. We're reducing regulatory compliance costs. We're moving through our automotive franchising reforms, and the franchising reforms have moved through in the last few weeks. And we're continuing to provide funds for financial counselling and assistance.

We will continue to secure our recovery. We will continue to lean in strongly to support the economic fundamentals of our nation. Those opposite would have you believe that 115,000 more Australians employed now than before COVID—the only industrialised nation on earth to do this—is a fluke. Those opposite would have us believe that the strength of our economy, as shown in the national accounts, is somehow a fluke. I've got news for the opposition: it's careful economic management that's delivered those results for Australians.

3:37 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Let's be real: this government has no plan to help in a disaster, whatever nature it is. It doesn't understand that its lack of planning has major flow-on effects to real people. Its lack of foresight and its governing by focus groups has plunged it into a series of reactive decisions. This government will always be remembered as the 'I don't hold a hose' government, which is a metaphor for so much.

So much of my electorate was devastated by the Black Summer fires. The whole country saw the effects of these catastrophic fires, and most understand there is significant trauma associated with these events. People lost their lives. Others lost homes, properties, businesses, livestock and their livelihoods. But the bushfires didn't just impact those who were on the front line; they had flow-on effects to the whole community, and these effects are still being felt today. Imagine you earn 70 to 80 per cent of your income in a short period of time over summer, and, because of this disaster, your entire area is deemed a tourist evacuation zone, seeing literally 80,000 tourists leave your area in a short window of time to keep them safe. Rather than proactively working with communities and businesses to support the economies of towns devastated by fires, this government sat idle and waited until community pressure forced them to act. The Morrison government did not understand that the flow-on effects of these fires meant businesses lost a whole summer of income—income they rely upon to get through the quieter winter months. This lack of planning has continued under the Morrison government, and it has caused immense damage to Australia's economy, to the economies of towns across my electorate and to individuals and small businesses.

This year the Prime Minister had two of the most important jobs—a speedy vaccine rollout and effective quarantine. They were the most important things he needed to get right to keep Australia's economy ticking over and to keep communities safe. But the Prime Minister's lack of proactive planning has flow-on effects. Who on earth wouldn't order enough vaccines for the country? He chose not to ensure we had a variety of vaccines available. He squandered the position that the Australian community and our premiers and chief ministers put us in by not being actively involved in the vaccine rollout. He said it wasn't a race. But it was. The Prime Minister ignored the calls for purpose-built quarantine facilities. The Morrison government made these choices, and the result has been an economic disaster. The Prime Minister's choices and his failure on vaccines and quarantines have plunged half the nation into lockdowns, which are devastating businesses, workers and communities in my electorate.

Small communities in my electorate are calling for support, but the Morrison government fails to deliver. When Sydney first went into lockdown in June, the Morrison government didn't offer to support businesses across the country that were impacted by this lockdown. Support was available for people who lost their jobs in Sydney. Support was there for Sydney businesses. But this lockdown crippled our snow industry. Businesses in the Snowy Mountains make 80 per cent of their annual income in the winter months. Sydneysiders account for 70 per cent of all visitors to the ski fields. Support needed to be rolled out immediately; but it wasn't, and it wasn't rolled out to our community. The result has been workers losing jobs. With no-one on the slopes, you can't employ ski instructors. With accommodation empty, cleaners were let go.

Right now, small businesses in my electorate are in crisis and workers are suffering. Businesses on the coast are usually preparing for September school holidays and for the summer influx. Businesses in Braidwood, Bungendore and Cooma would usually be getting ready for the huge amount of traffic transiting through their towns in the warmer months. It's usually a push to hire more staff and get them trained up. But businesses can't do that; they can barely keep their heads above water, let alone plan for the future. How can Eden-Monaro plan for the peak tourism season when it has lost most of the last seven school holidays? How can businesses continue when they are constantly cut off from their main sources of income?

Last summer, thousands of people left the region due to the Victorian border closure because of the Northern Beaches outbreak in Sydney. In the space of one day, businesses lost a week's worth of income that they were relying upon. Right now, these businesses need reassurance that support will continue when these lockdowns end. They need to know that, if borders are closed and lockdowns continue, this government will have their backs. Businesses and workers in my electorate need a government that has a real plan to repair the economy. They need a government that considers the flow-on effects of their decisions, a government that proactively plans for our communities. They need a government that will deliver for workers and small businesses. They need a Labor government.

3:42 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak on today's MPI. Labor speakers are high on invective, insults and indignation; they are high on their respective high horses. What I would love them to do is get down on the ground and walk through the streets of my town and see the effects of the current global pandemic on the businesses and workers that I represent.

Ms McBain interjecting

With great respect, Member for Eden-Monaro, the bushfires were 18 months ago. As environment minister, I'm closely involved in our continuing response. I know how hurtful they were and how important they are.

Opposition members interjecting

With great respect, members opposite, the experiences that you are bringing to the chamber today are experiences and problems from the past. You never articulate a strategy for the future. You never bring solutions to this chamber; you only bring nastiness, negativity and a lack of hope. To any small businesses or workers who are listening to this today, please don't believe what you hear from the Labor Party. It's really easy to talk about how bad things are; I know how bad they are. Maybe it's a bit difficult for Labor to get on board with a national plan that looks to the future. The one thing people don't want to listen to us arguing about in the chamber today is the difficult circumstances of people's lives and making it political. This shouldn't be the subject of an MPI. This shouldn't be the subject of a nasty debate across the chamber.

In the middle of a global pandemic, a conversation about the economy is quite relevant. I don't think it's a bad debate to be having. With that in mind, we can talk about the good indicators the Treasurer has brought to the parliament today. New business investment has risen by 2.3 per cent. Since the October budget, investment in new machinery has grown by over 22 per cent because of the instant asset write-off. That gives businesses confidence about the future. Labor is giving businesses no confidence about the future at all. Labor is just saying to business: 'Look at what happened last month, six months ago, 12 months ago and base everything that you see on those times with respect to what's going to happen in the future. Don't listen to them.'

Now, come on. Listen to what the Prime Minister and members on this side of the House have been saying. What we have said is that we cannot hold the economy back. Look, the indicators today are really good when you consider the global pandemic. The indicators today should give people confidence that we can bounce back. We know that the economy can bounce back. So, hold that thought if you are a small business or a worker that is worried. Hold that thought and recognise—when lockdowns lift; when vaccination rates lift to 70 and 80 per cent; when border closures are lifted—the economy and the businesses that you work for and the businesses that you own can bounce back.

The Morrison government are making the decisions that will help you. We're not wringing our hands, we're not looking at the past like Labor, we're not raking over old coals. We're working out what you need, what your business needs, what your family needs and what will make a difference in your community. We absolutely want to do that for you, and we are doing that for you. No-one knows that better than me. I represent border communities. I've seen four savage lockdowns. I have tourism operators with amazing sites to show visitors, but no visitors can come to them. I have family businesses that have mortgaged their houses, that have taken loans from parents, and those businesses are sitting in motels while nobody rings up, or, when they do, it seems it's only to cancel. They're desperate for a future income stream and confidence that means they can go on.

It is absolutely appalling that Labor would seek to take that hope away, because that's what they're doing today. That's what this MPI is all about. The only thing that sustains these businesses is faith in the reopening. Do not take that away, that faith the economy will reopen as per the Prime Minister's and the government's national plan. We will learn to live with the virus. We will increase the vaccination rates. We will lift lockdowns and open borders and we will allow you—as members say, it's not about support funding. It's about opening up and allowing us to go back to work.

3:47 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm just astounded that this minister stood up and basically told the member for Eden-Monaro and all her constituents to 'get over it, the fires were 18 months ago'. It is incredibly insensitive of the minister to stand up and say that in response to the member for Eden-Monaro raising, very rightly and very sensitively, the concerns of her constituents.

On the matter before us, the member for Whitlam's matter of public importance on the economy, when I was a researcher and a professor, I used to tell my students three things about research. I used to say to them: always look at the source of the research and the claims that are being made, always look at the methods that were used to collect the information and always look at the interpretation of those results. Now, there's an old saying—that, quite honestly, I'm just about to make up—that goes 'you can take the girl out of the research, but you can't take the research out of the girl'. One wouldn't, for example, take on face value any health advice offered by the member for Dawson. Now, in question time today, the Prime Minister continued to spin the claim that the policies of the Morrison government put one million people back into work. He has also made the claim that the so-called coronavirus recession is 30 times more dire than the GFC. In response to that claim, Professor John Quiggin at the University of Queensland's School of Economics said, '30 times is nonsensical and an illogical calculation.' Professor Jakob Madsen from the University of Western Australia said:

… the Prime Minister's comparison was "amateurish" and "ludicrous" and demonstrated the inherent danger in measuring changes from rates of figures close to zero.

Again, look at the source, look at the methodology and look at the interpretation of results.

It's a fairly lofty claim for the Prime Minister to make, to say that his government has put one million people back into work. It's actually marketing spin, if we're honest. If you can trust Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deliver anything more than just big announcements and smoke and mirrors, then you really need to look at the source of the information and the source of the claims made. The fact is that the employment which has been available since the start of COVID has not been spread evenly. In fact, most of that employment—most new jobs—have been created in two states: Western Australia and Queensland. Well, hello! Those two states, particularly Western Australia—and I feel very blessed to be coming to you from Western Australia—have been kept safe because of the actions of their premiers in shutting down with short, sharp lockdowns that have not only protected the health of Western Australians and Queenslanders but have protected the health of the Queensland and Western Australian economies.

The Prime Minister said, 'Ultimately, everything is a state matter.' But it appears to me that he only wants to make it the responsibility of the states when something goes wrong. But when something goes right—when employment and jobs are created—it's due to the federal government; it's due to his policies! There's no credit to the states when things go right. But the absolute fact is that in COVID ravaged states, which are COVID ravaged because of the abject failure of this Prime Minister on quarantine and vaccines, the employment rate has declined, whereas in states where the premiers have taken resolute actions against COVID, often in defiance of the Prime Minister's attempts to open borders—siding with Clive Palmer against Western Australia, for example—those states have done well.

But the health of the economy is not only measured by employment. As members on the Labor side noted, there are many more measurements of our economic growth that disprove the claims that this government makes. Remember the source, remember the methodology and remember to look at the analysis. (Time expired)

3:52 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is one of those great oops moments. This morning, at the opposition's strategy meeting—which is probably a term I use sarcastically—they discussed the fact that the national accounts would be released today. In their great hope and delight that the figures would not have been positive for our economy, some genius decided to move a matter of public importance related to economic management. The national accounts were released, later in the morning, and, thankfully for both the government and the people of Australia, Labor's wish and dream did not come true. Our economy grew in the quarter by 0.7. So now they're stuck with a motion that maybe someone else from the opposition was intending to speak to if that result had been slightly different. Instead, the poor member for Whitlam was sent in with that very cobbled together and half-hearted effort to make a case which is completely not borne out by any economic data—most particularly, the data released today, being the national accounts. That data saw our gross domestic product increase by 0.7 per cent, or 9.6 per cent over the last 12 months, and a 1.6 per cent growth in our economy since the beginning of this pandemic. So I apologise to the Labor Party, but not to the people of Australia, that we are a government which is growing our economy and creating jobs for the people of Australia.

The MPI talks about working Australians. Thank God we've got so many more working Australians than we would have had if some of the more dire predictions at the start of this pandemic were to have come true. Obviously, we're all aware that, early on, the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and eminent economists all believed we could have been heading for double-digit unemployment in this country. Instead, the most recent unemployment numbers see a 4 in front of them, which is an unbelievable achievement. There are challenges within that data, to be sure, but, thank God, we are where we are, as opposed to where the working people and, indeed, the small businesses that the topic this discussion speaks to could have been had some of the worst predictions occurred.

I have the honour and privilege, like most members of parliament, to visit so many small businesses in my own electorate, and I can tell you that the message is resounding. The support provided by our government over the last 18 months has made an enormous difference for them, not only in keeping the doors open but, in many cases, in giving them confidence to make decisions to grow their businesses. The instant asset write-off is a great example of that. So many businesses I visit have made decisions to invest in plant and equipment, putting money into their businesses that they might not have otherwise if they hadn't got the encouragement of being able to immediately write off the value of that asset in the next tax return.

Other decisions for small business support that we've made throughout this have given businesses the confidence to know that their government is there to support them in tough times. There is no better example than JobKeeper. If we want to talk about working people, working Australians and supporting them, I think the JobKeeper program will go down as one of the great public policy legacies in the history of this nation's economy. It was that decision, coupled with the other measures of support, that I believe led to this unbelievable outcome when it comes to employment statistics, compared to the very grim predictions in the early days of the pandemic.

There's more work to be done. We've got a lot more to do. With an election due by next May, we will be looking forward to talking to the people of Australia about our plans for the future. But what we've had in the contributions so far from those opposite is a glimpse into their vision for the future of the economy, which is nothing at all. So we're campaigning against a question mark at the next election, evidently. I look forward to that, because I've heard so many contributions—not just in this discussion but in so many discussions on things like the pandemic over the preceding months—where the Labor Party, as previous speakers from the government have pointed out, are only hoping for terrible economic news, which does not eventuate, and continuously praying for that into the future. Shame on you! Your dreams have not come true. The economy is growing. We have not shed jobs in the hundreds of thousands, as the early predictions showed. In fact, we've got a very bright outlook for this economy. The only danger to this economy would be a change of government. The only thing that would see the bright future turn in the reverse would be if those opposite were elected at an election next year. Thankfully, all indications are that there is no chance of that occurring.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Mr Dick interjecting

The member for Oxley.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the honourable member for Bruce.

3:57 pm

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

I can see why Christopher Pyne sent Mr James Stevens here as the member for Sturt. We do miss Christopher Pyne every time he gets up. What the Prime Minister has done to my home state of Victoria and our biggest state of New South Wales can never be forgiven or forgotten, as the Prime Minister's desperately hoping. The lockdowns are on him, the fake who sits over there in the Prime Minister's chair. He let this disease into our country before our population was vaccinated, because he failed to build quarantine. That's the hard truth of it. His failure to manage COVID-19 is not just a health crisis—or, now, a mental health crisis—engulfing the eastern seaboard; it's an economic disaster. Australia's economy is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars every day and billions of dollars every week. Now tens of billions of dollars of extra debt has been added to the debt that the next generation will have to repay. That is paying economic support that we would not have had to pay if this bloke had done his two jobs. The economy is now held hostage, frankly. Families are being kept apart across the country, people are out of work and small businesses are failing from a lack of support, because the Prime Minister failed to do his two jobs: build quarantine and get enough vaccines.

Today, we learned the government is trumpeting, 'We have economic growth at 0.7 per cent.' They think that's a good result! Have a look at the United Kingdom, which is properly vaccinated. They have growth of four per cent. We've got fewer jobs, lower pay, higher debt and now the risk of another recession. The government's failures have diminished the hard-won gains and the sacrifice made by millions of Australians, including those in my home state of Victoria. Last year Australians did their bit, but their government has let them down and failed them. Now we have the gaslighting champion of the world. The Prime Minister's going for that title. He's telling us he's for freedom. Move over, freedom boy over there; we've now got freedom daddy coming at you. He's hoping that Australians will forget that he's the reason they're in lockdown. He's the reason we're facing the risk of another recession. As has been said, it's like getting the arsonist who lit the fire to come and try to put out the fire.

Even before the pandemic Australia's economy was weak. The government's also hoping that Australians just forget this. In the eight years that this government has been in office, real wages have been lower than when they were elected. Australian workers are taking home less pay in real terms than eight years ago when this mob were elected. Real wages fell by 0.7 per cent between 2013 and 2019, before the pandemic even hit. The Prime Minister can't blame COVID for this. This is the result of his failed economic management. Economic productivity has declined after eight years of the Liberals. Household debt is up. Housing affordability is stuffed. We have the third-highest household debt in the world. A housing bubble is emerging, it seems. Inequality is worse. We have a trillion dollars of Liberal debt now, with nothing much to show for it. They've spent $100 billion of new money in this budget and they spent $100 billion of new money last year in the last budget, yet their projections are that real wages will continue to go backwards.

They are not managing the economy in the interests of small business or ordinary workers. But we could ask: who is actually benefiting? The answer's pretty clear. It's big, profitable companies. From the biggest rip-off in the history of Australian public administration, $13 billion of JobKeeper was wasted. It was paid to firms whose revenues were rising. The wage subsidy is good. It was Labor's idea. It was to save jobs, not to pay executive bonuses or increase profits for big companies. As Peter Strong, the former CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, said, it's pretty close to theft. The government has turned the Australian Treasury into a giant ATM where big business back up the truck—probably in the dead of night with the Treasurer there—shovel the cash into the back of the truck and drive off. It's like a money-laundering scam, because this is not money the government had in the bank; this is money that they're borrowing—billions every week—for the next generation to repay. Meanwhile, they're paying it to businesses now to increase their profits and pay executive bonuses. Big business couldn't believe it, could they? They thought they'd won the lottery. They thought, 'Who would be so stupid and so incompetent as to pay us to increase our profits and not create jobs?' The Morrison government. That's the answer.

As I said, it is the biggest single rip-off in the history of Australia. It's no wonder the government is desperate to keep the list of companies who got JobKeeper a secret. Citizens in every other country know who got the wage subsidies, but not in Australia. I wonder how many of them donated to the Liberal Party? That's a topic yet to be explored.

4:02 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will start by commending the member for Sturt for his outstanding contribution earlier in the day. I acknowledge that there are so many businesses across Australia and throughout my electorate who are suffering emotional and financial distress through the current lockdowns. I thank you for doing what you've done over the past couple of years. We have a road map out of these lockdowns and we will get there as soon as we possibly can.

One thing I do know is that the people in our communities are sick to death of discussions like these. We are treating them like fools. We are taking them for mugs. They know what's happening on the ground. They're on the ground. They're in those businesses. They're working hard. They're doing it tough day after day after day, and this type of nonsense does nothing to raise their confidence. It does nothing to give them hope that we as politicians are doing what we should be doing every day out there: urging and helping.

We know, and they know, that, as a result of this government's swift economic actions at the start of the global pandemic, GDP grew. In this quarter alone, as we know, GDP grew 0.7 per cent. It's a positive. We shouldn't be trying to turn that into a negative. Being 9.6 per cent higher through the year, which is the strongest through-the-year rate on record, is a positive. We shouldn't be trying to turn that into a negative. We need to put that information out there to the public, to the businesspeople, and say, 'Good on you. This is as a result of your efforts.'

We as a government are helping them. I'd like to use my own electorate of Cowper, population of 165,000, as the perfect microcosm, representing what's happening across the country when it comes to this government's support of the economy. This motion talks about managing the economy. This government has done that. We've done it through tax relief. There are 56,600 taxpayers in my electorate who, with their families, will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745. This is a result of the coalition's decision to extend the low- and middle-income tax offset 2021-22 and bring forward stage 2 of the government's tax plan. This is managing the economy. These people are grateful, and I know that because they tell me.

We've also extended the JobTrainer fund that supports over half a million new places across the country to upskill jobseekers and young people. There are 2,195 apprentices in Cowper, and, through this measure, there will be more opportunities for apprentices and trainees with the expanded wage subsidies. It's good for the economy. It's good for morale. There are more jobs. And, when we come out of these lockdowns, people can go back to work. They're not glued to the television watching question time or MPIs; they're worried about whether the lockdowns in the New South Wales regions are going to be lifted on the 11th.

This government has supported our employees and employers over the past 18 months. The JobKeeper payment supported 5,800 businesses and 19,900 employees in Cowper to help them through the pandemic, to keep employees connected to their employer and to give them that hope for the recovery. And that's exactly what we did: we recovered well. Nobody had a crystal ball. Nobody saw delta coming. We had a plan. And, because this is a one-in-a-hundred-year pandemic and there's no handbook for it, this government has pivoted and changed to move with the circumstances. We saw, through the budget, investment in roads, rail projects, and safety and community infrastructure programs. The Coffs Harbour bypass is just one project. Out of $3.8 billion in New South Wales, $1.8 billion is for the bypass alone. It's going to create around 12,000 direct and indirect jobs, and it's already engaging with the community in providing jobs.

We've got to stop these cheap shots. We need to be honest with the public. We need to be honest with ourselves and do the right thing by the public and provide them with the hope and the confidence that they need.

4:07 pm

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

Those opposite must be breathing a sigh of relief that they can blame everything on COVID—that they have no power over anything, that they can't predict it. Hello! We know that there are going to be different versions of COVID that hit us, not just this year but in years to come. There is ample capacity to plan—but not this mob. What they're going to do is blame everything on COVID. They're going to say, 'We don't have enough jobs. Oh, that's because of COVID. We don't have enough workers. Oh, that's because of COVID.' Every problem they come across, every problem we see now and every problem we see in the future, is going to be put down to COVID. But they cannot hide their economic mismanagement behind the veil of COVID.

Let's be really clear. There's a trillion dollars of debt, a figure this country has never before seen. Forget the GFC and the ridiculous allegations that were made during the GFC about a commensurate spend to tackle that. It was the right spend at the right time. This mob have spent a trillion dollars—but it wasn't all on COVID. They can't hide behind COVID here, because two-thirds of that trillion dollars was spent before a single COVID case landed on our shores. It is something that they will hide. They'll pretend it didn't happen, try and rewrite history, but the facts are there for all to see.

I want to talk about workers. This discussion is about how the economic mismanagement happens and how it affects people. Those people are workers and small businesses. Let's talk about workers. I want to talk about real wages, which we know have fallen. Again, this is not just a point of view we have; this is fact. There is evidence. The government's own evidence shows us that real wages have fallen and that they're lower than they were when the Liberals came to office eight years ago. So that's one side of it. The other side of it is how this government has tried to support workers in this second wave of COVID, in the delta wave of COVID. But they haven't bothered to support every worker. They've been very free to say only some workers matter, just as they did with JobKeeper, when arts workers didn't matter, when university workers didn't matter, when local government workers didn't matter.

Let me give you an example of one of the groups that does not matter to this government, and that's 16-year-old apprentices, who are excluded from the COVID disaster payment because of their age. Once they turn 17 they're eligible, but for some reason the effort that a 16-year-old makes as an apprentice isn't worth as much as the effort a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old makes. I know many young apprentices—kids who've got off their backsides, gone out and found an apprenticeship and said, 'This is for me.' They get up early. They work their long days, they study, they help their families financially, and they save for their own future. Travis from Hawkesbury, who lives in South Windsor, is a diesel mechanic who's one of those affected, as is Madison, a 16-year-old full-time apprentice.

Madison wrote to the Treasurer and explained that she's no longer in school and has been stood down without pay from work, from her apprenticeship. She wrote: 'I'm unable to claim COVID disaster payment because of my age. I'm bringing this to your attention as it may not have occurred to you how the age restriction on the COVID payment is affecting apprentices like me around Australia.' She said: 'We've all been working full-time and we're told we have to go on youth allowance. We're losing more than half of our income. However, we still have financial commitments. I would love to hear back from you concerning this issue.' That's nearly a month ago, and the Treasurer hasn't even bothered to get back to Madison. Madison is an electrician apprentice. She wants to work in that trade and she deserves to be supported throughout this time. It's an absolute disgrace that no-one from government has bothered to get back to her. What message does that send to young people?

If small business was as poor at planning as this government is, or spent so wildly, they'd be out of business. For small business to buy something and pay 10 times more than it's worth—that's what this government has done, paying $30 million for land valued at $3 million. This government wouldn't have a hope running a small business, and it's not doing anything to help workers survive this.

4:12 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I'm flabbergasted. This is the gotcha moment you have when you don't have a gotcha moment. They were planning at a strategy meeting this morning and they thought, 'Do you know what we're going to do—we're going to make the economy the subject of the day, because the negative June quarter figure will be out and that will look really bad, so we'll really double down.' But, while we're on this side cheering on the economy and backing the resilience of Australian people, those opposite, quite frankly, are hoping in their heart of hearts that the Australian people and the Australian economy falter. They're like a gymnast who's in second position waiting for someone else to come along and hoping that they drop the baton, the hoop or the ball—smiling all the time so as to pretend to be backing their compatriot, but really, deep down, they're hoping, 'Drop the ball.'

I want to double down on something I did last week, which was to call out those opposite, in particular the Manager of Opposition Business—but, in fact, anyone—to come to the dispatch box. If they're so keen on running down the Australian people, the Australian economy and our approach to this one in 100-year global pandemic, come to the dispatch box and tell me what other country in the world you would rather be in today. I saw the Manager of Opposition Business move forward when I made the challenge. When he realised what the challenge was he slunk back onto the front bench, because he knew that, even with his immeasurable oratory skill, and it is significant, he couldn't deal with that question.

The good news, in my view, is that the Australian people have an opportunity to compare and contrast. There was the global financial crisis during which those opposite were in charge of the Treasury benches. Remember, this was the crisis that never actually arrived on Australian shores. The Australian people have an opportunity to compare that with the way we've dealt with a once-in-100-years global pandemic, the greatest challenge to global economies effectively since the end of World War II. In making that comparison, they will of course look at the things we have done to support the economy in the face of that pandemic: JobKeeper, instant asset write-offs, instant expensing, cash flow boost—all the measures we've gone about supporting businesses with. On the other hand, the Australian people will consider schemes like—

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, you had a front row seat to this. I'm sorry to trigger you. Do you remember the minerals resource rent tax? That was a doozy. That was a tax that was going to assist with the economic fallout from the global financial crisis. The problem with it was that, for the first time I think in political history, it was a tax that was incapable of raising any revenue. They'll be comparing our measures, such as JobKeeper, with the minerals resource rent tax.

Let's not stop there. What about cash for clunkers? That was my personal favourite. When I first heard about it, I thought it was the then government talking about a remuneration scheme for their MPs—cash for clunkers. It wasn't. It wasn't even the worst of the programs. In my view, in penultimate position in the list of worst programs implemented by those opposite when in government to deal with the GFC was the overpriced school halls. I still visit schools today that have three-quarter basketball courts. Like others, I enjoyed so much watching Patty Mills and the Boomers do so well at the Olympics. I noticed they played on a full-sized basketball court, not a three-quarter-sized basketball court, but schools in my electorate have three-quarter-sized basketball courts. The most tragic of their programs was of course pink batts. We shouldn't laugh about this program, because its implementation led to the death of Australians. Quite frankly, those opposite can come in here and put up these fake fights about running down the Australian economy. The reality is that no-one is prepared to stand at the dispatch box and tell me or indeed anyone else what country they'd rather be in, because quite frankly they know this is both one of the safest jurisdictions in the world and one of the best led, with the strongest economy.

Within nine months the Australian people will have an opportunity to compare and contrast the disastrous programs of those opposite during the GFC versus our management of this pandemic.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! This discussion has concluded.