Thursday, 25 November 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government failing to act in the interests of Australians.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the sta nding orders having risen in their places—
Watching this Prime Minister try to navigate his way through parliament this week reminded me of a Malcolm Tucker quote, 'This is like a clown running across a minefield,' because the fleas are jumping off this dog of a government. The Prime Minister, when he took over and knocked off Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, described the coalition as a 'muppet show'. Well, he is now the muppet in chief. We know that the theme song of The Muppet Show says, 'It's like a kind of torture to have to watch the show,' and indeed it is.
Today we saw, on the national anticorruption commission, a government lose not one but two votes on the floor of the parliament. Then, when we asked about that in question time, he said it's our fault that they haven't introduced legislation on a national integrity commission, which they said they would more than a thousand days ago. On the Religious Discrimination Bill, which should be above politics, there was no attempt to reach out to the opposition. And I thought, 'That was a bit rough.' But then I found out they didn't even give it to their own party room before they debated it, so perhaps we shouldn't be so sensitive.
Then we have the net zero by 2050 vibe that they've adopted. They can't legislate it. Apparently, no-one's told them that what we debate in this place is legislation. Apparently it's bad. Then they have the target that Tony Abbott established in 2015 to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. Even though they say they're going to cut emissions by 30 to 35 per cent, they can't change it because the Nats won't let them and half their own party room won't let them. So the Prime Minister goes to Glasgow. That all went well, that international trip. And so he goes to Glasgow after the debacle in Rome. He gave an empty speech to an empty room and then he left. Australia signed up to going to next year's conference of the parties on climate change with a higher target. Australia signed up to that, and then they put out a statement the same day saying they wouldn't do that. Nothing to see here.
Then we get to the issue of vaccines, and that's where it gets really ugly. We had five senators cross the floor to vote for a One Nation position. We have a Prime Minister who's been saying, 'People should be able to get a cup of coffee in Brisbane without showing their vaccination certificate,' without seemingly being aware that the same provisions apply in Sydney. And then we had the protests—an area where we need leadership. The Prime Minister's response was part dog's breakfast, part dog whistle. That was his response, out there, refusing to unequivocally do what a leader was required to do when gallows appeared outside of a parliament and when people were threatening—threatening—to murder members of parliament.
After two years of disruption, Australians need to put the pandemic behind us. We all agree with that. We also agree that we wouldn't have had the recent restrictions if this government had done its job and secured vaccines and secured quarantine. But the best way to do this is to put this government behind us. That's what Australians are increasingly coming to terms with—that this is a government seeking a second decade in office who don't have an agenda for today, let alone an agenda for tomorrow. Perhaps the rebels in the government have a point because no matter what position they take, if they wait long enough it will be the government's position, because Scott Morrison had a different position last week and last month and last year from what he has today.
The Prime Minister has the consistency of mercury—dense, shiny, slippery, toxic and will change shape according to any situation. A prime minister who has no regard for what he himself said yesterday should be given no regard for what he says today. He said, 'We're at the front of the queue,' and we weren't. He said, 'It isn't a race,' and we know that it was. He said electric vehicles would 'end the weekend'. He said he supported Clive Palmer challenging border restrictions. He said 'Shanghai Sam' 17 times and then denied it. On Monday, he said he texted me that he was going to Hawaii, then he doubled down, then an hour later he had to stand at the dispatch box and say, 'No, I didn't,' when he realised that, maybe, there was a bit of evidence there. He should be aware about text messages because he's party to leaking them, as we know, from world leaders. He thinks that that is the way in which you secure relationships on the international stage. But the fact is that when I receive a text message from someone, like all decent people of integrity, I keep them private. The only reason why anyone knows there was any text message at all is because he went on 2GB live from Hawaii and told people; once again setting a precedent for the Macron incident.
The PM did then return and he went to Cobargo, where he falsely claimed he had a long conversation with Zoey Salucci, which wasn't true. We recall the dreadful message of the guy who tells us he supports choice forcing people to shake his hand. I say this: I've never had to force anyone to shake my hand.
My mum had a great saying: you can lock your door from a thief but you can't from a liar. This government is so focused on the photo op there's never a follow-up. It's smirk and mirrors. They're incapable of imagining a better future, let alone creating one. They act like an opposition in exile sitting on the government benches.
We on this side have a plan to build back stronger after COVID, with our National Reconstruction Fund to support the transformation of existing industries and new industries; our plan to make Australia a renewable energy superpower, cleaner energy and cheaper energy that will enable us to build things here, and rebuild; advanced manufacturing—to build manufacturing in areas like trains, defence and agriculture; our 10-point Buy Australian Plan; and our fixing of the National Broadband Network. This mob that say they support technology are the same mob that thought they should replace the fibre rollout with copper—with copper! It says it all about them. We'll train Australians for those jobs by creating Jobs and Skills Australia, supporting TAFE, supporting new infrastructure by having a fair dinkum Infrastructure Australia and not one that's just a place in which you appoint mates.
For all of the jobs that we'll create, we'll create secure work. This week, we've introduced the 'same job, same pay' legislation. We have a range of other measures to close the gender pay gap, to fix casualisation and to look after people in the gig economy. We want no-one held back and no-one left behind. We will advance the universal provision of affordable child care. We will protect and defend Medicare as the key organisation behind our health system. We will fix aged care, which has been the subject of neglect by those opposite.
We'll address issues like gender inequity in this country, including through women's safety with 500 new community workers, which we announced this week, and a family, domestic and sexual violence commissioner. We'll also make sure that women can't just be turned away in the way that they are en masse from housing when they're fleeing violence. We will allocate 4,000 of our housing future fund for women and children escaping domestic violence.
We'll also talk about what sort of nation we want into the future, a nation where we actually work together, a nation where we promote unity, a nation where we take people on that journey where we stop trying to divide. This Prime Minister sees every issue as an opportunity to divide Australians. Even when I just asked about the report into safety in the workplace that is this parliament, he sought to divide. I just wanted a copy of the report and to make sure that all the parliamentarians who participated get access to it.
We'll talk about what sort of Australia we want, and the Australia that I want is one that recognises the great privilege we have of living with the oldest continuous civilisation on earth here, First Nations people, and that's why we will implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, including a voice to parliament that is recognised in our Constitution—something that hasn't been advanced from those opposite, like the National Integrity Commission and so many other things they promised at the last election. It's always just about the announcement and never the delivery for a Prime Minister who is just not up to the job.
I've been involved in politics for just over a decade, and in that time I've seen many things, some good, some bad. But do you know what I see at the moment from that side of the House? I see arrogance. I see the arrogance of an opposition that thinks that they are just going to walk into the Treasury benches and take control.
Who can forget in the lead-up to the last federal election—it was the then opposition leader, the member for Maribyrnong, who sidled up to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do you remember that, Deputy Speaker? You may recall it. They were at a charity run, and he sidled up to the former Governor of California and informed him that he was going to be the next Prime Minister of Australia. You could tell from the look on Mr Schwarzenegger's face that he was shocked by that revelation. I felt that I could hear him thinking: 'Oh, my lord. I feel sorry for Australia if that is their fate.' Indeed, it wasn't to be the fate of Australia, because the then Leader of the Opposition's hopes and dreams were terminated. The Australian people terminated those dreams and their agenda of higher taxes and higher regulation at that election.
I see the same arrogance creeping into the debate in this House these days—indeed, in the last few weeks and months. Who could forget the portrait 'we are ready to govern'? It's the same thing. They think that it is their entitlement to waltz into those Treasury benches, that they don't have to submit any meaningful policies to the Australian people and that they are just going to be able to tax their way into whatever they want when they get into government. Well, the Australian people may yet have something to say about that. Just as the terminator gave the member for Maribyrnong that sideways look, I suspect the Australian people are still going to have a big say in what happens to the fate of the Leader of the Opposition. The reality is that this government has delivered for the people of Australia at a time when we have faced some of the biggest challenges we've ever had outside of wartime.
In terms of COVID, we have an enviable reputation. We've led the world in our COVID response and our COVID recovery. More than 85 per cent of the eligible population are fully vaccinated. We have been on the front foot to get the vaccines rolled out. Who could forget the great effort that was COVID Assist, with the men and women of our Australian Defence Force? They were on the ground all over our nation. They were everywhere in western New South Wales. I think that, when the history of this pandemic is written and people look back at what happened in not only western New South Wales but right around Australia, they will say it was those ADF pop-up clinics that turned the corner in so many communities, that got our communities vaccinated, that got the vaccine rollout turbocharged. We'll be forever grateful to those men and women of the ADF. But it was this government that made sure that that rollout happened, that our men and women of the ADF were on the ground to support our communities when they were at their most vulnerable.
Who could forget in the dark days that we had in the early days of COVID the lines we saw that snaked around Centrelink? I never thought I would see it. My office is opposite our local Centrelink office in Orange, and I couldn't believe the number of people, in particular, the young people, who were standing outside with looks of worry, distress and anguish on their faces. Then along came JobKeeper, which helped keep 3.8 million Australians in work. JobKeeper: let's call it for what it is. It saved the Australian economy from obliteration. JobKeeper saved the Australian economy from destruction. There can be no argument about that.
One of the things I often get when I talk to my communities about JobKeeper and the economic impacts is that there's a great deal of gratitude and goodwill for what the Australian government achieved in terms of the COVID-19 response. Equally, I also get many people saying to me, 'Boy, I'm glad the other side weren't in charge when we went through this.' And isn't that the truth! Amen to that. So many business people, so many individuals, who have shown gratitude, know what's happening out there and they are grateful that we were able to, together, get through it. There's been a lot of pain, there's been a lot of suffering and there's been a lot of heartache on the way through, but we have come through this and we are getting through this.
And the Australian government has been there with them every step of the way, not only through examples like the men and women of the ADF on the ground but also through our world-beating economic response. Let's look at what's happening in housing. There are over 130,000 HomeBuilder applications, generating $30 billion of activity, and new house starts are at the highest in 20 years. We have delivered the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. Apprentices: we've delivered new wage subsidies for 170,000 apprentices on top of the 100,000 already supported, many of them young Australians finding their way in the workforce. We were there for them. JobTrainer provided funding to support 450,000 places.
Let's talk about defence and who is best placed to look after Australia's security, both now and into the future. The new AUKUS partnership is a watershed, momentous announcement in terms of our alliance partnerships. The announcement on the nuclear propelled submarines is also equally momentous. It will give Australia the best available technology. Wherever I have gone in my community, that has been widely acknowledged and widely accepted. It's very important to have cutting-edge technology in defence. If you look back to the days leading up to the Second World War, it is true that many of our democracies were not prepared. That's the cold, hard truth. They were not prepared. But Britain had one piece of cutting-edge technology in its favour in those dark days, and that was the Spitfire. That's what saved Britain. That's what kept Britain and her allies in the war. It was just Australia and the like-minded democracies that stood up against tyranny. We have to be prepared. That's what AUKUS is all about, and that's what this investment in the latest submarine technology is all about.
So many more areas of Australian life have been supported by us not only through COVID but through many different facets. We have invested $125.7 billion in Medicare over the forward estimates. That's an increase of over $6 billion since last year's budget. This is up 58 per cent from when the opposition were last in government. It's a 58 per cent increase. We have announced more than $36 million in innovative medical product manufacturing projects to keep Australians safe from COVID-19. We have extended telehealth consultations. That's been a game changer for regional Australia. We have waived childcare gap fees for parents, supporting working parents and keeping their children in child care. When they have had to keep their children at home due to the current COVID restrictions, we have been supporting not only childcare centres but families as well.
We have delivered disaster funding, including in those parts of Western Australia that have been hit by cyclones. We have supported our veterans. I mentioned in the House today the important work of supporting our veteran community. We are immensely proud of our veterans, and rightly so, but the work to support veterans and their welfare never ends and never ceases. Today in question time I drew attention to the fact that the government spends $11.7 billion per annum on supporting the 336,000 veterans and their families, including free mental health care for life. But it doesn't cease. It doesn't end. It is an ongoing piece of national work. It is very important that we keep it going, and that's exactly what we are doing.
We are also supporting Australian manufacturers with $800 million in funding to encourage collaboration on major job-creating projects as part of the $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy. We love manufacturing in country Australia, and we are going to continue to support it. Australians can trust this side of the House to protect their health, the economy and their jobs.
Australians deserve a Prime Minister and a government that are going to tell them the truth, act in the public interest and plan ahead for a strong economy and jobs growth. But, instead, what do we have? We have a tired, decade-old government, just about, led by a Prime Minister who has zero regard for the truth. He always puts his immediate political interests ahead of the national interest and simply has no plan for the future, nothing beyond what can get him out of immediate trouble.
Nothing says it more about the government failing to act in the interests of Australians than the communications portfolio. When Australians think of technology, they think about it as a positive. They think of it as transformational. They see possibilities. They see the future. They see the potential for equality of access to be achieved through ICT. In contrast, this Prime Minister and this cabinet only see technology as an instrument to exploit or invent political differentiation and tactically present voters with false choices.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than with NBN. This government came in in 2013 and abandoned a fibre rollout on the dishonest premise their second-rate copper network was going to cost $29½ billion. What a surprise; that cost blew out to $41 billion, then $49 billion, then $51 billion and now $57 billion—basically double what they originally promised. It is a proverbial sushi train of cost blowouts served up by the most incompetent economic managers in living memory. Why? The abandonment of fibre was never about cost. It was always about politics. It is always about politics with this government. On one side, we had a particular technology, fibre, that just so happens to be favoured by most of the developed world. On the other side, they felt compelled to oppose it. Every time their multitechnology mix had a cost increase, they would invent a new set of untruths about fibre.
This was a scam, and it was decimated on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald in February this year. We had a report citing leaked figures revealing the communications minister and his government wilfully misled the Australian people about the cost of deploying fibre. I said before that it's highly notable that since that time the minister has been unwilling to repeat his false claims publicly. What is that? That's an admission that the minister was not misinformed. It's an admission that he wilfully misled the entire time and he is a diminished figure as a result, just as this Prime Minister and his government are so diminished in the eyes of voters who understand technology.
COVID has demonstrated that reliable, quality, high-speed broadband is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Families need it, students need it, small businesses need it. That's why last week the Labor leader and I announced that, if elected, Labor will not only keep the NBN in public ownership for the foreseeable future but will use that time to expand fibre access for up to an additional 1½ million homes and small businesses. This policy will run fibre into the street and give every Australian who relies on a copper connection now the choice of having fibre connected into their home if they want faster speeds in that 1.5 million footprint.
Labor believes the next decade should be one where Australia makes things here again and becomes globally competitive in growing industries such as advanced manufacturing. Our plan is in the national interest. It's focused on the future and about building better jobs, and of course relying on the highest-quality ICT. It is therefore no wonder that this government, in September last year, did the biggest backflip in public policy history by announcing, after racking up nearly double the cost of their second-rate NBN, that they would go back to fibre. How incompetent could these people be?
Unfortunately, it is not just critical infrastructure like the NBN where the Liberals play politics. The SBS and the ABC are national institutions that exist to serve all Australians in the public interest. Let's talk about their cuts. Tony Abbott promised there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS. I'll tell you what their cuts to the ABC did: they forced the cessation of shortwave radio, cutting off the provision of content into regional and remote areas. Then we had a news report in 2018 that a Chinese station had taken over those frequencies. It says it all. (Time expired)
It's always a pleasure to follow the shadow minister for communications. The member for Greenway and I both came into this parliament at the same time, in 2010. She would well remember having been a member of that Gillard and, later on, albeit for a small portion of time, Rudd government, under Labor and under the Greens, where not one single cent—not one zack—was spent on mobile phone towers. She would know that. She would remember that because she is now the shadow minister for communications. There wasn't a cent spent in the electorate of Page, nor Herbert, nor Grey, nor Barker, nor Parkes, nor Riverina, nor Cowper, nor Eden-Monaro—I can see Eden-Monaro over there—nor Macquarie. Not one cent was spent on mobile phone towers in any electorate in Australia.
But, since we came to power in 2013, total investment of $875 million has been generated, working with telcos to deliver more than 1,270 new mobile base stations across Australia. I can thank the member for Parkes, largely, for a lot of that, because he was the minister for regional communications at the time. No thanks to those opposite, because they didn't spend a single cent, not one cent. Yet they come in here—I hear the member for McEwen carp about it all the time, about how he needs a mobile phone tower, and I hear other members opposite who represent peri-urban areas say that they need mobile phone coverage. Well, don't expect it if ever there is an Albanese-Bandt Labor-Greens government, because you won't get a penny for mobile phone coverage. Indeed, you will get it under us. You will get it under the Liberals and Nationals.
I well recall the sorts of things those opposite put in place when they were in power. I well recall 8 June 2011. It was a black day for the live cattle trade, when they just said 'no', on the back of a television program, to live cattle exports. All of those farmers and all of their cattle had backs turned on them by Labor and the Greens and the crossbench. I remember how hard that was for those farmers, how hard it was for those operators, how hard it was for the hardworking Aboriginal stockmen. Goodness knows if ever they got back into the trade when it was resumed.
Instant asset write-off: the member for Parkes reminded me just a moment ago that he was driving from Lake Cargelligo, through the fertile valleys of the Riverina, back to his home base. He was driving back at night. He said all the headers were going, harvesting already. Many of those headers and harvesters and operations are due, thanks to good weather—
Good rain—thank you very much—but also because of the instant asset write-off that has enabled those farmers and contractors to invest heavily in their operations, and, indeed, we are getting on with the job. I listened carefully to the Leader of the Opposition and I listened carefully to the member for Greenway. Yesterday in parliament, the member for 'Rankin hypocrisy' asked the Treasurer a question—
Confected outrage, but I withdraw. He asked the Treasurer a question about jobs, about investment, about funding, about what we have done. These have been tough, difficult, challenging times, but the carry-on from those opposite does not resonate throughout the land. Small-business people are not thinking about what Labor is talking about. Mind you, they should be worried, because if Labor gets in there is $387 million worth of taxes just waiting. There's the sneaky petrol tax coming to a petrol browser near you. But look at the sorts of jobs that are in place now. There are more people in work now than there were pre COVID. There are certainly more people working now than there were when Labor was in power. One in eight manufacturing jobs were lost when Labor was in power. We're investing in apprenticeships, so we're investing in the future. We're investing in the instant asset write-off. We're investing in those businesses which keep our economy turning, whether they're in urban Australia or, indeed, in the powerhouse that you and I, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, know well of regional Australia, because regional Australia has been fantastic during COVID, and it has been on the back of National Party and Liberal Party policies.
I rise to speak on the MPI on the government being accused of failing to act in the interests of Australians. It is a serious topic. To accuse a government of having their own self-interest rather than the national interest is a major accusation. We know that they have had major problems when it comes to acting on climate change, which the rest of the world know is in our interest. We are the driest continent. We know that we've got to look after farmers, a big source of our trade, so we do have to get that right. But what do we see? We have seen some activities from the government in the last few days that are particularly disturbing in terms of acting in the best interests of the Australian people. We know that we live in a time of great uncertainty. Not since the end of the Second World War, I would suggest, when Labor led the nation through a very difficult time, has there been such a convergence of circumstances. Our foreign affairs spokesperson, Senator Penny Wong, gave an address at the ANU the other day. In a brilliant speech, she talked about rising nationalism; fraying multilateralism; great power competition, where smaller nations can be crushed; emerging COVID strains; an ever-warming planet; and coping with a more assertive China. That's what I want to touch on today.
We know China is significant. So much of our minerals and our farm produce is exported to China. In light of these changes with a more assertive China—our most significant trading partner—we need to get the balance right. Australia, right in the middle of the Indo-Pacific, has significant connections with the rest of the world. We are in a growth part of the world and have lots of opportunities to use multicultural Australia as our link to trade opportunities, but we need to get the balance right.
We know from reading the newspapers that some of those opposite want to beat the war drums in the lead up to an election. That is a very, very dangerous thing to do at any time, but in a world where we have some serious challenges it's particularly dangerous. We saw during the pandemic that something as simple as getting PPE organised can be complicated. Who knew that most of that came from a city in China called Wuhan? We know we've got to get the balance right when it comes to dealing with our trading partner. We know how important it is and that what goes on in this parliament is seen around the world. I was elected 14 years ago yesterday, and my first day was the apology, delivered by Kevin Rudd right there. That resonated around the world and let us have connections with countries in the Caribbean in ways that had not existed before, when they just saw us as a colony of the United Kingdom. Instead, we were able to reach out to countries in a way that we hadn't done previously. That all changed when Tony Abbott came in and had all of those opposite vote for knights and dames and all those other things that said: ignore Asia and the fastest-growing part of the world.
Sadly, the other day we also saw the defence minister make a statement that was quite challenging. Normally, when it comes to talking about China and Taiwan, we talk about maintaining the status quo. That has been the Labor position ever since Gough Whitlam went off to Beijing, an event of which the 50th anniversary was in July this year. And that has been a bipartisan position. Both sides of the House have had that same position. But the defence minister came out and made some incredible statements, asserting that it would be 'inconceivable'—that's the word he used—that Australia would not join a war over Taiwan. That's completely out of step with our allies, the United States, and how they approach diplomacy. You've got to ask why he would say that. Why wouldn't he be sticking to preserving the status quo, as advocated by the Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen? That's what the Taiwanese leader advocates. So he's amping up the prospect of war against a superpower to do what? To win some jostling match for positions on the front bench? That is bizarre, crazy and dangerous. It's a tactic employed by irresponsible politicians who are desperate to hang on to power at any cost. That is not putting the nation's best interest first. That's putting your own self-interest first, and that is dangerous.
Politics is not about what is going on in this place right now. Those opposite would like it to be where they're putting performance over people, tactics over the truth and antics over the interests of everyday Australians. Over here, we're standing up for Aussies, backing our sovereign capability and putting Australia's interests first.
Nowhere are we doing this more than in my community in Western Sydney, where we're focused on what matters most when it comes to jobs, infrastructure, families, small business and ensuring that we keep the cost of living low.
Our community worked so hard during the pandemic, and some people in our community are shining through now. There's a little cafe I want to mention called the Blind Chef Cafe. Craig, who runs this cafe, is completely inspirational. He lost his sight in one eye to a tumour when he was a kid. He became a chef, and he lost sight in his other eye when his tumour returned in his 20s. He opened his cafe in the midst of the pandemic, and it was our support with JobKeeper and JobSaver that enabled him to push and fight through. It was a complete honour to take the PM out to meet Craig and his team just last week. He represents what we fight for in Western Sydney, the people who we fight for and who we want to do the best by.
Another key thing that's happening in Western Sydney that the Morrison government is delivering, that the Morrison government is focused on when it comes to people over politics, is Western Sydney international airport. We have just announced the start of the passenger terminal, which is going to be a game changer not just for Western Sydney and my community but for our whole country, where we've got emerging industries, advanced manufacturing, medical industries and agribusiness.
The future is bright for people in my community. Importantly, it is about creating local jobs. That's what we're doing in the Morrison government: creating local jobs for local people. We've already injected more than $100 million into Western Sydney businesses as part of the development of the airport. From cranes, plumbing and fencing to concrete, it is a nation-building project. Already, over half the people working on the construction of the airport are Western Sydney locals. That's because we're at the forefront of Australia's future. There is so much to look forward to—local jobs, local people. We're putting people first before politics.
I'm also really excited about the fact that we are backing apprentices in Western Sydney in trades, particularly in manufacturing. Manufacturing in Western Sydney is at the heart of Australia's manufacturing. We have over 2,285 apprentices in Lindsay, and we've extended our wage subsidies to support even more. So I'm really excited about the future for our young apprentices supporting the growth of manufacturing in Western Sydney, where we have over 600 manufacturers employing over 6,000 people already, and I look forward to seeing that grow even further with the support that we're giving to back in our Australian manufacturers. There's never been a better time when we are so focused on Australia's sovereign capability. A number of manufacturers in my electorate are contributing to this, because we are hardworking, aspirational people in my community who are being backed in by the Morrison government.
The pandemic has been a particularly hard time for people in Lindsay, with lockdowns and particularly with mental health. I'm really pleased that one of my election commitments—a $14 million election commitment to have a Penrith Head to Health clinic—is shortly going to open and provide even more support to people in my community who are struggling with mental health issues, which is super important after this time that we've faced with the pandemic. So, in Lindsay, we're being backed by the Morrison government. We're delivering for them. We're putting people before politics. We're backing local jobs. We're backing local manufacturers. We're building Australia's largest infrastructure project. For me, this is what it's all about: backing local people.
We thought things were pretty bad when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who promised no cuts to the ABC and SBS, no cuts to health and no cuts to education, did just that when he came to office. He cut every one of those things. He broke promises. We thought that was a new low in politics. But this country has never seen anyone quite like Prime Minister Morrison, a man who acts only in his own interests and does not act in the interests of all Australians. I'm very happy to spend the next four minutes and 15 seconds backing that up. Sadly, that will not be enough time to cover all the ways in which he has failed Australians, but let's give it a go.
I think we felt this most keenly in Macquarie—this failure to act in the interests of Australians—when the Prime Minister didn't show his face in my electorate when the fires were burning. In the Black Summer, the largest fire from a single ignition point was sending smoke everywhere and traumatising people as the waves of flames came, not for days, not for weeks, but for months, but the Prime Minister didn't make an appearance. He flew over us on his way to somewhere else. We didn't expect him to hold a hose—although former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was there early one morning at Hawkesbury RFS headquarters, ready to spend the day literally holding a hose. While I rarely saw eye to eye with Mr Abbott on policy, I thanked him for his support of my community in our hour, or months, of need. I had no cause to extend the same thanks to the Prime Minister, because he didn't show up—and not for the floods either. As far as I know, he still hasn't come to see, on the ground, the extraordinary damage in my electorate that occurred as a result of the fires and the floods—and the floods just this March gone. If he had, he would understand the fear that people have right now about the current rain and what it might do, and the fear that they have of a second flood.
People feel that the Liberals are failing them right now. This is a Prime Minister who happily steps back from any responsibility. He is like your wilful teenage son who will deny he said or did something even when you can see the evidence on Instagram. He will not accept his part in things. He failed to give us the vaccines that we needed early and soon enough, and that has led to lockdowns across my electorate, across Western Sydney. He was responsible for the lockdowns that saw one part of Western Sydney treated so harshly and another part also in lockdown—our city divided. He failed to act in the interests of all the musicians, creatives and performers in my electorate when he decided that JobKeeper was not for them. He failed to act in the interests of university workers, staff, who either lecture and tutor or who work on the grounds or work in libraries. He failed them.
He's failed to act consistently in the interests of young people. He's doing as little as possible as late as possible to rein in climate change. He's put up the fees for students doing law, economics. communications, commerce and humanities. He has failed them. He's let TAFE be neglected, cutting $3 billion from vocational education funding and slashing the Education Investment Fund. He has done nothing to tackle the housing affordability issue that they face. He has failed to deliver a headspace for the Hawkesbury. These are all things young people need and care about.
And, at the other end, he has failed to act in the interests of people in aged care. Neglect—that sums up exactly what this government has done and continues to do. He is failing to act in the interests of people with disability who have a constant fear that the NDIS is going to be changed. When there are moves to change it, they're beaten but then, right behind, there is another move—just like waves crashing time after time onto the shore. That's how people with disabilities feel.
There are many other failures, but the thing with this Prime Minister is that he will never admit it. He will blame us. He will blame the states. He will blame anyone else rather than take responsibility.
I appreciate the opportunity that this matter of public importance gives me to talk about the achievements of the Morrison government and, in particular, what's happening in my home state of South Australia. Earlier this week, the ABS figures showed that the South Australian economy is the fastest-growing in the nation, at 3.9 per cent. That's thanks to some of the excellent things that we as a government are doing in South Australia. But, even better still, there's so much more to come in the future. Those figures only take into account what is already happening, let alone what is going to be happening going forward.
There are a few areas I want to touch on—firstly, defence. South Australia is the defence state, and particularly we are the state of naval shipbuilding. We have had a very historic announcement in the last few months about the AUKUS deal and what that means for the future of submarine construction in South Australia. At the same time as the AUKUS announcement, we had the confirmation that South Australia will be the home of Collins class maintenance into the future, as well as the life-of-type extension to the Collins program, which is 1,300 jobs guaranteed in my home state of South Australia. I was thrilled to have the commitment that Adelaide is indeed the home of submarine construction now and into the future. As well as that, we have the AWD upgrade announcement. Of course, the AWDs were built in Adelaide, and the latest upgrades to the AWDs will also happen in Adelaide. That's coupled with the Hunter class program, which is ramping up with nine frigates to be built in Adelaide. In defence, this government is investing enormously in shipbuilding, and Adelaide is unquestionably the home of naval shipbuilding for Australia—for the Southern Hemisphere, frankly. That means thousands of jobs for decades to come into the future.
We also have the Space Agency. This government has made a number of significant investment decisions in space, but also partnership decisions with the major space agencies around the world: NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency. We're already participating in some very exciting space based programs. The Space Agency is headquartered out of Adelaide. We're already seeing businesses in the space industry attracted to South Australia. Because the space agency's there, they see Adelaide as the capital of the space operations and industries of our country.
That also flows into cybersecurity and what's happening in cybersecurity, both with our government decisions and in the private sector. Again, we're seeing an enormous number of cybercompanies choosing to establish a base in Adelaide because they see Adelaide as the centre for the cyberindustry in this country into the future. That is an enormous growth sector. We all know how important cyber already is, but it's only going to be more significant into the future, and Adelaide is where it is at if you want to be in the cyberindustry.
In the creative industries, particularly film, I'm lucky enough to have the South Australian Film Corporation based in my electorate. We've had some significant productions in the last few years, most particularlyMortal Kombat, the biggest film ever made in South Australia. That was a Hollywood blockbuster supported by our government's rebate scheme, which helps support film businesses to come to Australia and undertake production here. We've got a bill that's been through this House, that's in the Senate now, that continues and enhances that into the future. I have one business in my electorate that's already hoping for and counting on the swift passage of that through the Senate. It's a novel position for someone to expect that the Senate will be hasty on that! Nonetheless, he's made a decision that that's going to pass. He's already signed deals to do more film production in South Australia. Again, that's an example of our government co-investing with businesses to create jobs and grow our economy in Australia, particularly in South Australia. The Lot Fourteen precinct is the heart of a lot of these decisions. In a few weeks time we'll have a major milestone at that precinct, with the sod-turning for the Indigenous art gallery.
Things are really happening in all of these sectors because of the decisions that we're making. At the heart of that is the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund. A few businesses in my electorate have already been successful in applications to that program. That is us investing in future manufacturing and future jobs. It's an exciting time for the economy in South Australia, and that's thanks to the decisions of the Morrison government.
I encourage the former speaker, the member for Sturt, to encourage the passage of that legislation through the Senate. I know there are a lot of film production companies that are going to go to the wall if there's not a quick resolution of that, and there are some very commonsense amendments around. I encourage him to continue to see the passage of the bill through both places.
We're living through a once-in-a-century global pandemic. It's causing the greatest amount of inequality that we've seen in this country. But, instead of improving the lives of Australians, those opposite have indeed been making things much worse. One example is housing affordability. It's never been worse than it is right now. Many young Australians will never be able to afford a home, and it's this government's policies that have let that happen. This government doesn't do anything to help the next generation put a roof over their heads.
Under this tired old government, we've seen wages go backwards—not even staying the same, not even keeping up, but actually reversing. Wages have gone backwards by about $700 a year, while fuel prices have gone up $900 a year. The interests of hardworking everyday Aussies, who are feeling this, hard, in their back pockets, have never been of less interest to those opposite.
Those opposite stuffed up the vaccine rollout unimaginably all year, leading to months-long lockdowns for most of the country and causing unimaginable suffering to people and their businesses, but you won't ever hear them take any responsibility for that. They'll talk about the mental health challenges that are there but never connect it to the businesses that have gone to the wall because of lockdowns. Businesses have gone to the wall because JobKeeper was ripped away too soon, because the government were too focused on making sure that it went to the top end of town—to those businesses that actually had increasing profits during that period. But, when they started getting called out for giving taxpayers' money away to corporations that did not need it, then they withdrew it, leaving high and dry the small and medium businesses that did need it to keep their employees employed and to keep liquid, to keep operating their businesses.
At the same time, let's not forget that they're asking pensioners in their 90s to prove that they should be getting the pension and then threatening to put them on a cashless debit card. They're demanding that workers who may have been overpaid on JobSeeker or JobKeeper repay it, even if they're quite willing to do it if they just know what the situation is.
These things come up because of these continual lockdowns. Whose responsibility were the lockdowns? It was those opposite, the federal government, who failed to bring in dedicated, proper quarantine—a lot of people forget about that—and also failed in the vaccine rollout. They failed with the communications plan about the importance of getting vaccinated.
Now we've seen a disgusting situation where misinformation thrives not only among those opposite but with the Prime Minister himself. That's had real consequences in the Northern Territory, including in my electorate with the people that I support. Life-threatening, dangerous misinformation is flourishing, including in our remote communities in the Northern Territory. The government are doing nothing to stamp out the malicious spreaders of misinformation who are preying on these communities, and it is an absolute disgrace.
We know that those opposite have got no problem at all being profligate with taxpayers' money. It's a slur they like to throw at Labor, but we've had sports rorts, car park rorts, endless pork-barrelling of marginal seats—and their own seats, of course—and the million-dollar blind trust. The Australian public's faith in our democracy is at an all-time low, because that's how this Prime Minister wants it. The rorting has been outrageous. They don't want a national integrity commission, which says everything you need to know about this mob.
Memo to those opposite: matters of public importance shouldn't be free kicks for the government, but this one is. Let me take the opportunity to punt at the goal. Let's talk about how the government has acted over the course of this parliament and this term in the interests of Australians. On jobs, 1.6 million jobs have been created since 2013. And, of course, those opposite know in their heart of hearts that there are 3.8 million people who would have suffered if it weren't for JobKeeper but who were supported.
An honou rable member interjecting—
Fighting the virus? The death rate in the US and the UK is 50 times higher than that in Australia. On economic recovery, we're the first advanced economy to have more people employed than we did pre COVID. There are currently 74,000 more people in employment today than there were pre COVID, and our net debt is around half of that of the UK or the US. On small business, we've provided tax relief to 3.4 million businesses, and we've expanded the instant asset write-off. Spending on equipment has increased to its fastest rate in seven years. On housing, there have been 130,000 HomeBuilder applications, a program that those opposite opposed and decried. New housing starts are the highest they've been in 20 years. We've delivered the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme to make sure people who want to get into a home can get into a home. On apprentices, we've delivered new wage subsidies for 170,000 apprenticeships on top of 100,000 already supported and the JobTrainer fund to support 450,000 places.
On tax, we're providing relief to 11 million Australian taxpayers. They're getting up to $2,745 in relief this year alone. Electricity prices are down 13.2 per cent since December 2018. On emissions, those opposite want to pretend they're the friend of a low-carbon economy when they don't even have a target for 2030, but it's our government that has driven down emissions to 19 per cent lower than 2005 levels. It's the lowest level since 1995, and we're investing $20 billion on clean tech. We've got a record investment in infrastructure—our $110 billion commitment—which includes but is obviously not limited to Western Sydney Airport, Melbourne Airport Rail and the Bruce Highway. We're driving up exports. We've had the largest trade surplus since 1920. We've got new export deals with the Pacific, Japan, Korea and Indonesia.
We are a more resilient Australia in response to the challenges of drought and bushfire. We have a stronger Defence Force. We've delivered on our commitment to grow the defence budget by two per cent of GDP. We're spending $270 billion over 10 years on defence capacity. On school funding, funding for schools has increased from $13.8 billion in 2014 to $23.4 billion in 2021. On better health care, funding for public hospitals has increased from $13.3 billion to $25.6 billion.
I say all of this because the Australian people are about to go through the exercise of contrast and compare. Well, that's our submission to the Australian people on what we've achieved. All they've got to go by is what happened under the last Labor government. Let me remind people who might be listening: there was the carbon tax; there was 'cash for clunkers'; there were overpriced school halls; there were pink batts that killed people; we saw defence spending at its lowest level since the 1930s; and the greatest shame of all, the greatest tragedy of all, was that we completely lost control of our borders. We ruined the Australian live cattle trade, and those opposite, quite frankly, didn't 'give a ship'. They gave not one commitment to build a ship in this country. They did not 'give a ship'—not one.
Before those opposite say, 'That was a former government; we'll be better after Anthony Albanese,' the reality is that his great plan to get into government, other than saying absolutely nothing, was a national driver's licence with which you could drive from Melbourne to Sydney—newsflash: you can do that today—and a $6 billion commitment to give $300 cheques to people who'd already taken the vaccine. Brilliant! I can't wait for the people of Australia to contrast and compare. I know the answer.
The DEPUTY SPEAK ER: The discussion is now concluded.