Thursday, 17 February 2022
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's failure to plan for the future of Australia.
I call upon honourable 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—
Well, there is an old saying, which is, 'Don't waste a crisis,' because a crisis is an opportunity to take a step back and think about how you should emerge from the crisis even stronger. We in the opposition have been doing just that. We've examined the problems that have been identified, and in some cases magnified, by the pandemic that Australia continues to go through, and we have based our policy on how we create a better future for Australia as we emerge from this crisis—a stronger economy that lifts up living standards, delivers for working people and is more resilient going forward.
One of the things that have been identified during this crisis is a reminder that we too often are at the end of supply chains and that that makes us vulnerable to international activity. There's a lot of talk about foreign policy and engagement. The truth is that, overwhelmingly, most of the RATs, for example, come from just one country. If that tap's turned off, that creates a problem.
But the truth is we have incredible opportunity. In the resources sector, we have everything, for example, that goes into a battery: lithium, nickel and copper. We have everything that goes in. That's why we've established a National Reconstruction Fund. Just as during World War II Curtin appointed Chifley as the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, and in that postwar period we saw the foundations of the postwar boom in Australia, we want to lay the foundations for the post-COVID boom here in Australia. We do that by understanding that industries need to transform through the use of cleaner and cheaper energy but also that we have an opportunity to have new industries emerge.
That's what our powering the nation plan is about. Something that, at the end of this fortnight's sitting, people might have noticed in the gallery is that we announced our climate and energy policy on 3 December. We announced it with a fully costed, comprehensive plan, a plan that will see our emissions drop by 43 per cent by 2030; create 604,000 jobs, with $52 billion of private sector investment and $78 billion of additional investment in total; and see household power bills reduced by $275 between now and 2025.
The truth is that change happens. The job of government is to ensure that you shape that change in the interests of people. That's why those opposite are just incapable of dealing with the future; they can't even deal with the present. During the last campaign we saw the scare campaign about how electric vehicles were going to end the weekend. We saw them say that hydrogen was snake oil—that it was nonsense. That's why, when we stand still, every other country in the world with any leadership goes past us. That is why it's a mistake for us to be frozen in time while the world warms around us and to be isolated when it comes to action on climate change.
Our vision is for new industries powered by cleaner, cheaper energy and for us to identify how we need to make more things here: make our trains and our ferries and our transport infrastructure; make pharmaceuticals; and make high-value manufacturing right here. The opportunity is here right now. And we want to make sure that Australians get those jobs, and that's why we'll create Jobs and Skills Australia, to do, for labour, what Infrastructure Australia does for the allocation of capital and investment. It is to make sure that we look and plan for what the labour market needs over the next year, the next five years, the next 10 years, and to make sure that training is there. And we will make sure that it's equitable as well, by having 475,000 free TAFE places in areas of skills shortages. We will make sure that we address areas like nursing shortages by having 20,000 additional university places. Those are the lessons that we've learnt. How do we position ourselves to emerge stronger in the future?
We also need to look at social policy. We've had a reminder of how important health is. If you don't get health outcomes right, then everything else falls apart. That's why we want Medicare to be strengthened. That's why we will always have Medicare at the centre of our health system, and we will make sure that we have policies that make sure GPs are more available; that it's cheaper to go and see a doctor. We will make sure that we support telehealth and we support IT. The expansion of the NBN is about education and health services; it's about positioning ourselves for the future. Those opposite are the copper mob. At a time when the whole world knew you needed to go to fibre, they were there saying, 'No, we don't want fibre; we'll go back to copper,' and we're suffering as a result.
But we've also seen sectors suffer—child care in particular. Childcare centres are currently closed, many of them, because they can't get workforce. We need to acknowledge that, in order to power the economy, we need mobilise women's workforce participation. We need to drive productivity. We need to drive opportunity. We need to represent the whole of the country, and that means representing women. That means adopting the Respect@Work report. That means closing the gender pay gap. That means making child care accessible for all.
And, of course, most tragically, we have been reminded about the aged-care crisis and how, in spite of the fact they had a royal commission with recommendations about the workforce, they've done nothing about increasing the pay of people in the aged-care sector. They still won't guarantee that a nurse should be in every nursing home 24-7. One would have thought that's a pretty fundamental principle. But the aged-care crisis, with more than 700 deaths, is what we've seen.
We have a plan for the economy, for social policy and for environmental policy, around the theme of A Better Future, making sure that no-one's left behind and no-one's held back. Those opposite have nothing of substance to say. That is why this week, in spite of the fact that we've seen previously they don't have anything to say about the problems of today—let alone plans for tomorrow—the Prime Minister said: 'Hold my beer. What I'm going to do is trash our national interests.' That is what he said. Mike Burgess, the Director-General of Security with ASIO, said this last night: 'I'm very clear with everyone that I need to be that's not helpful for us.' That was about this government's absurd campaign to try and divide the nation. Dennis Richardson has the quadrella. If you think about the four positions in this country, in terms of our bureaucracy and our structures, that are consistent over a period of time, they are Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Secretary of the Department of Defence, the head of ASIO, and the US Ambassador's position. He has held all four! He was appointed by the Howard government as the Director-General of ASIO and as our ambassador in Washington. This is what he said:
The creation, or the attempt to create, an artificial division where one, in practice, does not exist only serves the interests of one country, and that's China.
If you're looking for a Manchurian candidate, he sits over there, because, with the campaign that has happened this week, he has served the interests of China, not our national interests. That is what has occurred. And, if you look at the comments from respected commentators, like Paul Kelly, Greg Sheridan and others, they all know.
Last Friday I met with the US Secretary of State and other allies. I have been engaged with the US since I was a guest at the state department there for six weeks more than 30 years ago. Since that time I've built up friendships with people in the United States, and relationships, and trust. I've never been to a rally for Donald Trump. What we're seeing here this week is the importation of Trumpian rhetoric, where truth doesn't matter and facts don't matter. But this is what the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said about the meeting with us:
We came away reassured that these principles that we hold dear and our vitally important alliance transcends politics and any one party.
We came away absolutely confident that whomever the Australian people select as their new leadership, as their next leadership in the upcoming election, we are confident that the US-Australia alliance will endure and remain as strong as ever.
In order to engage in foreign policy you need to engage with respect, not engage in the trash talk that those opposite have engaged in this week.
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance and I imagine, for many members on all sides of this chamber, this is a bipartisan moment. We're all counting down the days until we no longer have this Leader of the Opposition and his pointless and menial matters of public importance, because we all know what's going to happen at the election—which is, of course, the government is going to be returned. But then we are going to see The Hunger Games on the other side of the chamber, particularly for those who aspire to replace the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, we know full well there are already members auditioning—and I see one of them, the member for Maribyrnong, walking out of this chamber, and there are many others who are charmers and pretenders to the throne and the crown. But, of course, none of them have a plan for the future. Their only plan is how they find their way to that chair on that side of the chamber after the next election, because they know that this Leader of the Opposition will fail.
We saw evidence of it in the speech the Leader of the Opposition just delivered. He called this side of the chamber the 'copper mob'. It might interest the Leader of the Opposition to hear that I recently went to a company in New South Wales called SunDrive Solar. SunDrive are doing some really exciting and innovative things. They're changing the very structure of solar panels, and they're switching the use of silver wash, which is a necessary ingredient to be able to build conductivity in solar panels, and shifting to—that terrible metal of the future, according to the Leader of the Opposition—copper. Why? Because it delivers better outcomes, and because it's part of the industrial capacity of the future of Australia. So we on this side of the chamber are proud to be on the side of technology. We're proud to be part of building Australia's industrial future. And, more critically, we're proud to be able to do it in a cost-competitive and efficient way so that Australians can have jobs.
In fact, as I listen to this debate on the matter of public importance, I am kind of reminded of the absurdities of some remarks I heard yesterday at the National Press Club. I watched it from here in the office in Parliament House. But we all know what the National Press Club is like. You have a guest; in this case, it was Climate 200's Simon Holmes a Court. And then afterwards journalists asked questions, because he was projecting his, what do we call it, vision, plan, whatever it is, about the future of Australia, as part of the fake Independents campaign that he is financing so that he can install the Leader of the Opposition from that side of the chamber on this side of the chamber. But we all know what it's like at the National Press Club, Deputy Speaker, when you're giving this so-called visionary speech about where things are going to go. Simon Holmes a Court was asked a question by Katharine Murphy, a journalist at the Guardian. And, whatever anybody thinks about Katharine—and people have a diversity of views, of course, on her media and her reporting and her articles—nobody would call her a hard-right-wing Rottweiler. I think that's fair to say. I think even she would agree with that. She asked a pretty straightforward question, and it was a fair question too. She asked the question, 'What's a science based policy for climate change?' of Mr Holmes a Court. Of course he gave a long, complicated answer but didn't actually address the fundamental, which was, 'What is a science based approach to climate policy?' That led Katharine Murphy from the Guardian to ask the question once again. She said: 'I'm just picking it up, given Greg Brown from the Australian set the precedent. David Crowe, you're active in the climate policy space. Simon, you have been for years. What is the answer to my question? What's a science based approach to climate policy? What's the answer?' The answer was, 'I'm not sure.' And that shows you, despite the big talk and the rhetoric of plans and visions in the future, that so many of those who oppose the government actually have none. They have no clarity about what they stand for. They have no substance beneath the headlines. That's exactly the sort of model that the Leader of the Opposition was channelling in his speech today.
We see this consistently from other members of parliament. We see it from the member for Warringah, whose policy on climate, despite the big talk—again, following from Mr Holmes a Court—is not dissimilar. Their solution is to establish new commissions to do all the work for them. They have no plan. They have no vision. In fact, even the Labor Party when it came down to it, relied heavily on the government's plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to be able to develop their own plan. The member for Warringah's solution is to develop a new commission whose sole purpose is to override democratic decision-making, because she has no plan. She has no capacity to solve the complex challenge of how we continue to grow our economy while also making sure we cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
That's against the performance and the outcomes that this government has delivered. Since 2005, we have seen Australia's economy grow by 45 per cent. We've seen emissions go down by 20 per cent. We call that the decoupling. We have a plan on how we're taking Australia forward together, because we understand, as the Prime Minister said in question time, it is about jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs. No-one has set that out more clearly than the shadow Treasurer. The shadow Treasurer said at the start of the pandemic that would be the benchmark of performance of a government at the end of this pandemic. Well, to the shadow Treasurer, we say, 'Challenge accepted.' The reality is we have the lowest unemployment rate in over 13 years against a global backdrop where unemployment has become a big challenge. Inflation is emerging as a challenge in most countries, and of course they have had nowhere near as much sail through the pandemic in terms of the number of deaths. The Prime Minister has been consistent: our job isn't to just protect lives but also livelihoods.
Australia under this government has continued to perform. But I do have empathy with the matter of public importance put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. He is concerned about the future, and I can understand why. When it comes down to it, no Australian can plan if we see a change of government with a Labor-Greens alliance on the other side of this election. It doesn't matter what the issue is, whether it's economic policy. Earlier this week, the member for Melbourne was outraged at the proposition that there might be an inheritance tax that he supported, which of course is the position that's previously been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. He didn't want an inheritance tax just when people die. He wanted an inheritance tax, a wealth tax, today. The member for Melbourne is going to be using that as one of his key negotiating points when he holds the Leader of the Opposition hostage in negotiations after the next election. He doesn't want to tax people when they die, as the Labor Party does; he wants to make sure that people are taxed at all stages of life, including on their family home. So I can understand why the Leader of the Opposition is worried. How can Australians plan for the future when he is going to be held hostage by the Marxist member for Melbourne?
It isn't just those radical policies that the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party will be held hostage to after the next election. The Greens have also outlined that they'd like to see a 50 per cent cut in expenditure on national defence. Think about the enormity of the national security challenges our nation faces, the absolute enormity in making sure we secure our interests and our sovereignty on the global stage not just for ourselves but in how we help so many of our allies, partners and neighbours be able to stand up for their sovereignty too, particularly in places like the Pacific Islands. The answer from the Marxist member for Melbourne to impose, negotiate, and hold the Leader of the Opposition and a future Labor government hostage is to cut spending in that space and undermine directly—hack at the heart of Australia's national security.
The question will be put to the Leader of the Opposition when he sneaks into government—if he sneaks into government—with the support of the Marxist member for Melbourne and the Greens. To achieve that outcome, what are you going to do? Are you going to cut the kit that our troops have? Are you going to cut their pay? Are you going to cut their necessary support and infrastructure, whether it's subs, tanks or other types of vehicles, to keep them safe and protected on the battlefield? What's it going to be? These are the big choices they will face at the next election.
The Labor government's plan, with an alliance with the Greens, will undermine Australia's national security and economy from the get go. If you compare it not just to the performance of the government throughout this pandemic period but to the years prior—if you compare it to the plan that we have to make sure we continue to secure Australia's economic opportunities while also building Australia's industrial capacity for the future—we have the plan that will secure our national security in, frankly, what are going to be difficult times and likely to be Australia's most challenging decade. We have the plan to make sure that Australians are in the best position to be able to buy their own home and secure their own retirement. We have the plan for Australia's health security. We have the plan that will continue to ensure that Australians remain healthy against a global health challenge like the pandemic. At every stage, it's quite clear the choice that Australians have: a plan put forward by a coalition government for security or a plan that's hostage to the demands of the Greens under a Labor government and the Leader of the Opposition.
After listening to the posing, preening and prognostications of the previous speaker, it gives me the opportunity to talk about national security, Defence Force posture and defence personnel. During question time today, the Prime Minister said, 'My job is to keep Australians safe.' If that's the case when it comes to defence personnel, as the previous speaker was talking about, this government has monumentally failed. There has never been a Defence Force posture review undertaken in the last nine years by this government. Not once have they examined it.
The Morrison-Joyce government has failed to plan for our national security. They have failed in recruitment and retention. Five and a half thousand people leave our ADF personnel every year, and they fail to deal with the transition to civilian life. But they've also failed to recruit. The latest Defence annual report shows that in 2020-21 Defence met only 90 per cent of the permanent force recruitment targets, and we know it has failed to meet the 2016 Defence white paper targets every year since 2015-16 under this government and the various prime ministers they've had. At the same time, the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and the 2020 Force structure plan showed that workforce costs are set to fall as a percentage of the defence budget while capability acquisitions will rise. In other words, personnel will go down while capacity will go up. This means that this government is massively underinvesting in our defence people and defence jobs relative to capability and procurement. Let's talk about that. That's their plan for the future. Given that the government is failing to meet its current recruitment targets and that personnel shortages are already impacting the ADF, this could become a pressing defence capability issue. The previous speaker didn't talk about that. So don't give us lectures about national security when you can't fill your defence personnel in the ADF.
Back in 2020, as part of the strategic defence update, the government promised to deliver a new defence workforce strategy in the following year, 2021. It didn't deliver that strategy. It came and went. We haven't seen it. Now they're saying that they'll deliver it this year. We still haven't seen it, and I doubt whether we'll see it this side of the election. We understand it's been delayed, apparently, because of the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the UK and the United States. If they can't deliver a strategy to fulfil their previous commitments, how do they plan for the future?
Of course there's no guarantee that the government is on track to meet the current white paper target of around 62,400 personnel. We need to see a new workforce plan as soon as possible to know if there are enough people to actually operate the future force of the ADF. The reality is: we don't have enough personnel now, let alone staff, for the future acquisition of nuclear submarines, new ships, long-range missile systems, manned and unmanned spy craft and cybercapability. We need defence personnel, and the government is not planning for the future in that space. The government hasn't had a posture review during the whole tenure of the government. It hasn't fulfilled it once in terms of the number of personnel to fill our ADF to improve our national security. So don't give us lectures when it comes to this issue. Don't preen and pose and prognosticate over there when you haven't got the personnel to staff the ADF to keep us safe in this country.
It's been reported the Navy has already launched Plan Delphinus to grow the submariner force from 852 to 2,000 personnel for the proposed French submarines—which are no longer required! Even more submariners will now be required for the nuclear subs, so the Navy will need 20,000 personnel—up from the current 15,000. We haven't got enough ADF personnel to keep us safe in terms of national security. There's no force posture review, and the Navy will need another 5,000 personnel for the new nuclear submarines.
It really blows this government's commitment out of the water when it comes to defence in this country. Capability is going up and workforce is going down. The government and the defence minister have some serious questions to answer. They need to come up with a plan and come up with it fast. Don't come in here and give us lectures about national security when you can't do your job in defence personnel for the future.
Speaking of not being able to do your job: what did the member for Blair say when the Labor Party, in government, was cutting defence spending to 1.56 per cent of GDP? Did he go into the Labor caucus or the Labor cabinet and say anything? No—and he's just left the chamber now! It's not just what you say at the dispatch box or in this chamber; it's what you do in committee hearings, it's what you do when you're in caucus and it's what you do when you're in party rooms that make the difference. I'll bet that the member for Blair said nothing—absolutely nothing!—when Labor was ripping the guts out of defence spending to the tune of 1.56 per cent of GDP. That is the least that a government has spent on defence spending since 1938. And we all know, sadly, what happened in 1939.
That's the Labor way. Anyone listening to this debate will remember, all too well, how defence spending was cut in the years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. It was pathetic. For the member for Blair to stand at the dispatch box and make out that Labor might have changed its ways, as if we have something to be sorry about—we have put investment in defence, in shipbuilding, in equipment and in personnel and people, and we will continue to do it. I hate to think what will happen if the member for Melbourne ever has a say in determining what Labor might do in a future Labor-Greens-'Voices of'-Independents alliance government. The member for Melbourne will have a big, big say. We already know he's belled the cat. He wants to cut national defence spending by up to 50 per cent. I tell you what; I won't cop it!
I'm the proud member for Riverina. Through Kapooka my hometown has basic training for every soldier who goes through that proud establishment. I know how important the Royal Australian Air Force is not just to our nation but to my hometown, to my electorate. If you spend any given time wearing the blue you end up at Forest Hill and RAAF Wagga, and we've also got a Navy base—all three arms of defence. We are the only regional inland city centre to be able to make that claim, to make sure we train our defence personnel to the greatest capability. Don't just take my word for it. You go anywhere in the world and people will tell you how good our Defence people are. And to think that Labor members and particularly the Greens leader are going to cut the guts out of defence spending if they get the treasury bench! That will be a shame, particularly at this time, when we've got the Ukraine situation, the situation in the Pacific rim and, of course, the ongoing situation in South-East Asia and elsewhere. This is a critical time not only to put more money into defence spending but to protect what we've already got, and those on the opposite side will not be protecting what we already have in the area of defence.
I listened very closely to the member for Grayndler, the opposition leader, talking about driving women's workforce participation. There is a good story to tell there too as part of the coalition. Indeed, the Morrison government's personal income tax plan has already delivered more than $14.4 billion in tax cuts to more than 5.2 million women; the number of women participating in the workforce is at a record level; and we heard in question time today that women's unemployment is at four per cent. They are good numbers. We should be proud of those numbers, and indeed we are. We should be extolling them in workplaces right across the country. There were 815,600 female business operators as at August 2021. We have put our money where our mouth is. We are making sure that if women can participate in the workforce—and we encourage them to do so—there are opportunities for them to pay less tax.
As for those opposite, what will they do if they get into government? They will jack tax rates up, because that's what they always do. They are reckless. They are chaotic in government. We saw that in those six sorry years, and the member for Blair knows it full well. He knows full well that they will cut defence spending and jack taxes up, because they've got form.
I would hate for this parliament to only get half the story, and unfortunately, when former Prime Minister Turnbull and the member for Riverina talk about defence spending, they're both missing a really crucial piece: they're not mentioning that defence spending also rose to 1.93 per cent of GDP under Labor in 2009-10, which was higher than at any time in the Howard government. It was the highest figure since 1994, when Paul Keating was Prime Minister and defence spending as a share of GDP was 1.96 per cent. I'm sure none of the members opposite would want there to be a misleading figure used here to mislead the Australian public about what governments of all colours do, because both sides take the defence of our nation very seriously, and it has been appalling to see it being used as some sort of little political tool in recent days.
What I'd also like to point out is that the Prime Minister spent a lot of time today trying out his latest messaging about the economy. What he's missing is a key point, and that is something that COVID has shown us: if you don't have your health, not a lot else matters. We've seen that. We've seen that with people's lives. It's all very well to talk about how important the economy is, but the economy is actually about people, and that's how we see it. We intend to have, if we are in government, a strong economy, not at the expense of people but in support of people and their health and security.
The obsession with political pointscoring that we're seeing from those opposite means that they have had no interest in solving the problems that have emerged and been highlighted by COVID. They've only been concerned about making sure they don't have to take responsibility for anything. They don't want you to blame them for anything, but they'll take credit for everything. The Prime Minister leads this charge. It comes from the top down. If you were outside this place looking in, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this country is being run not by a Prime minister but by an adolescent. He reminds me of an adolescent who hasn't yet learnt how to take responsibility, hasn't yet learnt that you have to stand up and unconditionally say 'I'm sorry' sometimes, and hasn't yet learnt that sometimes you can't just push the blame onto other people and pretend it wasn't you. Australians deserve more than that from a Prime Minister, and they deserve much more than they're getting from this government that is just fighting within itself and dividing the nation.
On this side, Labor want to see a nation that is brought together. By the end of a first-term Labor government—there are a whole lot of things that are achievable, that people might struggle to conceive when they think about those opposite running the place—and working with Australians, there's so much that we can get done. We can see more things being made at home, and I stand here very proudly as the member of parliament who has the only Australian manufacturer of rapid antigen tests that was listed in the initial listing on the TGA for the at-home rapid antigen tests. That's a company called Innovation Scientific. I was working with them for many months to educate small businesses about RATs, long before they were available, and to show them what the quality of an Australian product is. That's the sort of thing we should have more of in the Hawkesbury and in the country. The way we do that is we power it with cheap energy. We know that people should be paid a secure and decent wage, so they can live with security.
While there are certain things that we can't compete with other countries on, we can compete on energy. One of the keys to a future made in Australia is cheap renewable energy—and it also creates jobs. Our Powering Australia Plan will create over 600,000 jobs. We will be able to boost renewables to 82 per cent of the grid by 2030, and people will get a $275 drop in their energy bills by 2050. That's what Labor can do working with people, not fighting amongst ourselves.
I'm pleased that Labor members have seen fit to bring forward this matter of public importance, because it talks about the plans that both of our parties have for the future. They're quite right: at the next election, coming up in the next few months, Australians will face an incredibly stark choice. There is a gulf of difference between the plans that this government have for the prosperity of our nation and the plans that Labor have for Australians, and Australians need to know the difference.
I think Australians understand what this government are about. They have seen us in the trenches over the last three years, keeping them safe from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. They have seen us keep people in aged care safe. They have seen us roll out vaccines to vulnerable communities. They have seen us roll out booster shots. They have seen us close the borders quickly. And they have seen us take the hard decisions when needed so as to keep Australians safe. They have seen us support hundreds of thousands of jobs through the JobKeeper program, a program that has enabled us to have the economy firing as we come out of the pandemic, including heading towards a record low unemployment rate. They have seen us keep Australians safe when it comes to standing up to the coercion of other nations. And they have seen us tackling the difficult security environment that we face—one of the most difficult security environments faced by any government in a long, long time.
Meanwhile, Labor's plan for the future, Labor's plan for Australians, is a dark and depressing one. It's one where Australians don't feel safe. They don't feel safe to make choices for their families. They don't feel safe to plan for their future. They don't feel safe that their kids will have opportunity and hope. It's a future where a future Labor government have lost control of our borders, just like they did the last time they were in government because the opposition leader doesn't have the ticker to personally turn back a boat. As a consequence, people will die at sea—women and children. Australia's law enforcement and border patrol officers will be fishing bodies out of the sea on a daily basis. Billions is being spent locking up those who have been trafficked by people smugglers in their evil trade—just as Labor did when they were last in government. To pay those billions of dollars to lock people up because of people smugglers, because they've lost control of the borders, Labor are ripping it out of defence. They're ripping it away from Australia's serving men and women, just like they did when they were last in government, when defence spending was at the lowest levels since the 1930s.
They took money out of ASIO, the AFP and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission—the very agencies working to keep Australians safe on the front line every single day. In Labor's plan for the future, Australians are now less safe from foreign interference and less safe from criminal gangs and bikie gangs who would seek to do them harm. It gets worse. As those groups are allowed to flourish because Labor is ripping funds out of ASIO, the Criminal Intelligence Commission and the AFP, Labor is lacking the ticker to revoke visas of convicted criminals and send them back to their home nations where they hold citizenship. So these people continue to commit crimes against Australian citizens. This government has revoked 10,000 visas of convicted criminals. Labor couldn't manage even a tenth of that.
I haven't even got to Labor's vision of our economic future—one where they add taxes, like inheritance and death duties, the retiree tax and housing tax; where they undo the economic policies of this government that have created jobs; where they undo the HomeBuilder scheme, which is putting record numbers of first home buyers into their first homes; and where they undo our infrastructure investment, which is creating jobs and getting people out of traffic congestion and back to their homes and their families more safely and more quickly. The unions reign supreme again, causing inflationary pressures and cost increases that families have to deal with in the supermarket aisles. This is Labor's vision for the future. It's bleak and it's dark.
Australians at the next election in the next couple of months have a stark choice. Re-elect this coalition government to keep unemployment low, to keep our economy strong, to keep Australians and their families safe, and Australia's borders safe and standing up against economic coercion from other nations. (Time expired)
I've got to say, as a new member in the parliament, I have never seen anything like we've seen this week from those opposite. It is embarrassing. What members opposite are saying and the division that they are trying to create in this country is absolutely embarrassing. I am ashamed of the Morrison government and the ministers who have stood up here in question time today and absolutely lied to people in this Australian parliament. I grew up on a dairy farm—
I grew up on a simple dairy farm. Things were pretty simple. We got on with life. We did what we had to. We had food. We traded vegetables. We did all of that. And I look today at where we've got to in this Australian parliament, where those opposite are coming out to seek to divide people. I just can't believe what is happening. I think if people in my electorate saw what was going on in this Australian parliament, they would be ashamed of what has happened.
I cannot believe the division on every single topic that those opposite have talked about. Let's talk about defence. I come from a defence town. I've got a son in the Army. Why are we divided about defence? We should not be divided about defence. I have HMAS Creswell in my electorate. I'm proud of that. At the moment they are off working in aged-care homes in Victoria to support them during the pandemic. The brave men and women of HMAS Albatross served us through our Black Summer bushfires and just about every other disaster we can think of. We've got Australian Public Service employees working in Defence and working right around that need more support. I can tell you that there have been so many cuts that have happened there, but what those opposite are doing is trying to divide, and it's absolutely shocking. I cannot believe the depths and the lows people have gone to in this Australian parliament when our parliament should be standing up and creating a better nation for every person in our electorate, a better nation for everyone in Australia. But all we see is division. All we see is politics. That's what it's all about from the Morrison government, and I say that quite honestly and sadly, because it should never stoop to that.
My mum was a TAFE teacher and a dressmaker. She went to TAFE. She worked hard but, like many women, when she got married she had to leave her job. Shouldn't we be investing in our TAFE system? Shouldn't we be investing so that more young people can go to TAFE and can go to university? I'm married to a tradie. Where have all our tradies gone? We've gone through the bushfires in my electorate, and people can't even rebuild their homes or get out of their temporary accommodation or get out of their temporary business premises because there aren't enough tradies because those opposite do not support the public funding of TAFE.
This government has failed to plan for the future of Australia. We should be making more things right here in Australia. Senator Molan came to my electorate recently and talked about sovereignty, but what's the government doing? We've already committed to a maritime strategic fleet. We've already committed to the helicopters and the aerial firebombers. We've already committed to a housing Australia future fund so people can have a home. There is nothing from the Morrison government. They need to do better. (Time expired)
I appreciate and welcome the opportunity to have a debate about Australia's future, and that debate is framed around two vitally important topics: the future of the Australian economy and the future of our national security. I welcome the fact that this will be the way we will frame the election campaign, and I look forward to the opportunity to go to the people of my electorate, like I know all of my colleagues on this side of the chamber equally look forward to going to their constituents, and saying, 'These are the important issues that you have to adjudicate over when you go into the ballot box and choose where to put No. 1 on your ballot paper.' I'm very confident that the Morrison government will be handsomely re-elected when we frame the election on this basis. It surprises me but I welcome the decision of the opposition to craft a matter of public importance on a topic that we have all been desperate to talk about ourselves all week in the parliament. Again, I thank them for this opportunity.
Before I talk about our plans for the future, let me say that our record on both of those topics, on the economy and on national security, is one we take a great deal of pride in. We know, of course, that the unemployment figures came out today. Again, unemployment is stable at 4.2 per cent, an unbelievable achievement of the economic policies and settings of this government and one that has surprised many, particularly those opposite, particularly the shadow Treasurer, who was hoping and praying that unemployment would increase dramatically because of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. That has not happened and it's because of the strong economic decisions that we have made as a government. I won't catalogue them all, because I've had the opportunity to do that in the past, and I think they're well ingrained in people's minds. But the results couldn't be better encapsulated than today's unemployment figure of 4.2 per cent. When I was at university, five per cent was considered full employment. The fact that it's 4.2 per cent and that the Governor of the Reserve Bank and other senior eminent economists expect that the unemployment rate will go below four per cent is certainly a cause for congratulations on the strong decisions that the government have taken to secure our economy and to ensure that we're in a strong position to go into this campaign, to go to the people of this country and say: 'This is what we've done. But, more importantly, this is what we'll do into the future.' Again, in national security, particularly in defence but also in law enforcement and also in the intelligence agencies, we have made very significant investments and strong decisions that have put all of those elements of our national security services in this country in the strongest possible position to meet some of the threats and challenges that, unfortunately, could well befall us in the years ahead. I think the 2020s will be a period of uncertainty and probably the most significant time since the end of the Second World War, particularly in our region. We need to be in a strong position to meet those challenges, to meet those potential threats. We want peace and we want stability and we want freedom in our region, and you secure that through strength. You secure that through a strong Defence Force, through investing in that capability.
As someone from South Australia, when it comes to sovereign capability and the defence industry, I know just what an impact that makes not only when it comes to our national security but also when it comes to the economic dividend of that. We have a naval shipbuilding program underway in SA, with nine frigates and eight nuclear submarines to be built in Adelaide, and supply chains spread throughout the nation. There is technology that we can access through important alliance partners—in particular, the AUKUS agreement that has recently been signed by our government, which gives us the opportunity to have a nuclear-propelled submarine fleet for the first time in our history.
We have the Quad, the quadrilateral dialogue, and other alliances in our region. These sorts of decisions and achievements under this government are underpinning our national security—much like the free-trade agreements are underpinning our future economic prosperity. We know that our economic growth, in the greatest amount, will come from growing our export sectors and producing more and selling more to the rest of the world. As a nation of only 25 million people, we've got much higher ambitions than merely providing for the needs of this country. By signing those free trade agreements, we're putting ourselves in a position to maximise our market access.
This is a government that understands how to drive forward with a future of prosperity for this nation—economic prosperity and national security. We're making those tough decisions. We've made those tough decisions. We'll have the policies to take to the next election and secure the future of this country for the years and decades ahead.
National security and defence are very important, as all speakers in this MPI have alluded to. It's important to note, though, that there's more to national security and defence than defence spending. There's also fuel security, which the government has manifestly failed to address over its nine years in government. We don't have the fuel reserves in this country that we need. Under this government, we've seen Australia's maritime fleet absolutely decimated. We have a tiny handful of merchant vessels left and merchant crews in Australia, Australian crews. They're also part of our national security apparatus, as we saw in World War II at Dunkirk. It was the merchant fleet that saved those soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk. That's how important the maritime merchant fleet can be. Under this government we've seen our maritime fleet absolutely decimated. What Australian voters are looking for in the months ahead is certainty and security, and only Labor can provide it. This government has failed over the last nine years to provide that security and certainty.
The Liberal government is a risk agent, it's an agent of risk. Everything it does is about chaos and change. This may come as a surprise to people listening to this debate. The Liberal Party used to be a party of conservatism and looking after the establishment and tradition. That's changed in recent years. It's now a party of risk and change. It smashes the ABC. It cuts Medicare whenever it can. Try to find a bulk-billing agent in regional Australia. You can't. You can't find a bulk-billing GP. The government chips away at Medicare every chance it gets. Arts and culture have been decimated under this Liberal government. University education—decimated. University lecturers and staff—absolutely forgotten by this government. During the pandemic 40,000 teachers at university level were left behind because this government didn't care about that incredibly important institution. National security and defence have become political playthings under this government. And just today was the incredible sight of this government gagging debate on its own legislation because it has no respect for the traditions and the culture of this parliament and this democracy. It's all about power at any cost: do whatever it takes; do whatever it takes to win. That's all it cares about—no integrity, no decency.
After a promise before the last election about a federal integrity commission, it's gone nowhere. They're not even introducing the bill that they say that they've drawn up—which we know is deficient, but they don't even have the guts to bring it into the chamber.
This Liberal government cannot be trusted. It is dismantling Australia's culture and our traditions, and they are turning this country into a cut-price version of the worst aspects of America. This Liberal Party that governs this country now is not the Liberal Party of Robert Menzies. It's not the Liberal Party of Malcolm Fraser. It's not the Liberal Party of John Howard. It's not even the Liberal Party of Malcolm Turnbull. This is the Liberal Party of Donald Trump. That's that what this Liberal Party is. Look at what they're doing: insecure work is rampant in Australia under this Liberal government; penalty rates have been cut under this Liberal government; wages have actually gone backwards for people because of this government; there's no respect for family time for people under this government because of their attacks on penalty rates and weekend rates; financial insecurity is getting worse; they've deliberately suppressed wages under this government; and young people are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to buy a house. It used to be the case that young people could get a good, secure job and go out and get a mortgage and buy a house. Young people today think: 'How on earth can I afford to buy a house in this environment? My labour is casualised, I've got insecure work and my wages are suppressed. How on earth can I get into the housing market?' That is the legacy of this failed Liberal government, a government that can't be trusted with the future of this country.
Only a Labor government will provide certainty and security, secure work, cheaper power prices, a future made in Australia and more manufacturing. The choice is easy at the next election. The choice is easy: Albanese.