Thursday, 17 February 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022; Second Reading
RISHWORTH () (): We are coming to the end of another term of this parliament. We may only have a few sitting days left to go. It's time to give a report on this government, I think. My electors and people in my electorate have been consistently telling me that this Morrison government deserves an F for failure. It is disappointing that the government, during this last term, and indeed for the almost a decade that they have been in government, have failed to properly understand the needs of people in my community. When we look at this pandemic, right from the beginning this Prime Minister said that it wasn't his job to do so many things. He failed to order enough vaccines. He failed to roll out the vaccines properly. He failed to build fit-for-purpose national quarantine facilities to stop the virus entering the country. He failed to order enough rapid antigen tests. And he fails to ensure that there is a proper national plan. He will talk about a national plan, but the truth is that states and territories do not have confidence in this Prime Minister, and they've actually gone and done it themselves.
Time and time again, when this Prime Minister and this government have been called out about some of these failures, what is the response we get? 'Well, it's not my job. I'm not responsible for this.' Where is the leadership in this? During this pandemic, Australians have been crying out for leadership, and what have we got? We've got a Prime Minister who has constantly picked fights, usually only with Labor premiers but sometimes with his Liberal counterparts as well, and run commentary on their performance but who has never himself taken responsibility. Of course, it hasn't just been when it comes to the pandemic; it's the bushfire recovery, the robodebt, the awful neglect that was already in aged care, the huge amount of rorting schemes—sports rorts, car park rorts. It's just more and more excuses, more and more 'It's not my fault.' This passing of the buck has just got to stop. Australians deserve better. Australians deserve a leader, a Prime Minister, who will take responsibility and not just pass the buck, not just do a fancy announcement and never actually deliver something properly to the community. I mentioned vaccines. If we think about the vaccine rollout, Australia's vaccine rollout left us vulnerable. The lack of supply left us vulnerable as a country. I heard countless reports from constituents in my electorate who desperately wanted a vaccine but just couldn't find one. I heard many reports from GPs who were confused about how to obtain the vaccine and the process of administration.
Earlier this year I still had parents contacting me about how to get a vaccine for their child. As late as this year parents were scrambling for appointments. They were booking in at various places trying to get a vaccine. One local example is Lauren from Morphett Vale, who said that she was very anxious and uncertain about her kids going back to school. This was compounded by the fact that her kids would not get even their first shot before heading back to school. She was unable to secure an appointment earlier.
This just isn't good enough. We also have a booster rollout that is slow and was delayed by the original slow vaccine rollout. When the Prime Minister said it was not a race I think it sent shivers down so many people's spines. It was a race. It still is a race. We need this Prime Minister and government to stand up.
Of course, this is not the only example of where the Prime Minister and this government have been slow to act. It was the same story when it came to rapid antigen tests this summer. Rapid antigen tests have been used in the US, the UK and many other countries around the world to get people back to work safely, to get kids back to school and to start to return to normal life. Instead, in Australia at the most vulnerable stage of the pandemic, when we were seeing case numbers increase significantly here on our shores, we had many people lining up for PCR tests and not being able to get a PCR test. They were driving around. Belatedly it was announced that they could use rapid antigen tests, but they couldn't find any of them because the government hadn't actually planned for this. They hadn't prepared for this. The government belatedly had to be dragged kicking and screaming to announce their program for concession card holders. They left many vulnerable people being ripped off and many people being undiagnosed. People were travelling around suburbs, cities and towns searching in vain for these tests.
Of course COVID has had a massive impact. I think there are a lot of small businesses in my electorate that are feeling quite frustrated about some of the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. If you read between the lines, they're saying that Australians have never been better off. That is not the real lived experience of many small businesses in my electorate. Most recently I met with Chris who owns a cafe in the Colonnades shopping centre. Chris purchased this cafe in the Colonnades in January 2020—not a great time. Since then she and her team of 10 staff have been working hard to continue to service their customers, but trade is tough at the moment with the increased density restrictions in South Australia and low foot traffic because people are scared. Even if people can go to the shops, they are worried and are not going. Chris shared that, throughout the whole pandemic, right now is the hardest it has been for her business. Yes, that's right—lockdowns were better for Chris than now. She told me she just sold her house to keep her small business afloat.
For the Prime Minister to say that the economy is going great guns ignores the real lived experiences of so many small businesses in my electorate. Their businesses may never be the same again. They may not make it through. We need to really understand that, despite some of these headline economic figures, there are people who are really doing it tough and deserve our recognition and our support.
In the pandemic we have been left vulnerable as a result of a health system already under significant strain. Look at my own state of South Australia and at ramping in particular. For those who don't know what ramping is—although it's a term you don't need to explain in South Australia—it is when an ambulance goes out for an emergency, picks someone up and then sits in the driveway of the hospital because there just isn't the capacity in the hospital. Now, ramping in South Australia's hospitals was a problem before omicron, but it is now a significant problem, and it has been compounded by this government's, as well as the South Australian government's, failure to properly prepare for the onslaught of omicron.
I'll give you just one example. Last year I was contacted by a family in Aberfoyle Park who were forced to call an ambulance when they were unable to see the local doctor. After calling triple 0 for an ambulance, the family were left waiting for over two hours for it to come to Aberfoyle Park. This family said it wasn't the first time they'd been left waiting for an ambulance in the last year; the mother said she'd experienced a heart episode and after calling the ambulance she had to wait for the ambulance and then was left ramped and waiting for treatment for four hours.
In addition, we have seen the issues around our hospitals compounded by this Morrison government's failure to properly address the primary healthcare system, particularly in terms of GP shortages. My local communities in the southern suburbs are facing shortages of GPs that are preventing many residents from accessing the basic healthcare they need. Those with regular GPs are waiting too long to get an appointment, and many doctors in the southern suburbs are stretched so thin they've been forced to close their books to new patients. Over 300 residents in my community have gathered together in just a few short weeks to sign a petition calling on the federal government to address this GP shortage. Constance from Morphett Vale says: 'Sometimes I've waited up to three weeks or more. I have heart failure, lung failure and kidney failure. I feel very afraid. I'm unaware when I will need to access a doctor. Please help us in the south.' Milton from Reynella East says: 'I've waited up to two weeks. This is just not good enough. We should not have to wait two weeks to see a doctor.' And Shirley shared her experience: 'I have to wait at least three weeks or four weeks for an appointment. I feel so sorry for our overworked doctors.' Once again, this is a government that has failed to plan for our primary health system, and these are the consequences.
Then, of course, as we've heard throughout the media recently, on our aged-care system—which, we know, has been neglected by this almost-decade-old government—the pandemic has opened our eyes to the existing problems in aged care and has exacerbated them significantly. There have been over 600 deaths this year. There are a thousand outbreaks right now in aged care. Tens of thousands of aged-care residents have not got their booster shots. Over half the aged-care workforce have not got their booster shots. And, as I speak, 12,000 residents and workers are infected. This is just not good enough. Where is the government? I will not accept from this government: 'It's not my responsibility.'
So, when it has come to the pandemic, this government has failed to plan and failed to act. It has loved the announcement, but has never been there to actually deliver.
But the failures stem from many, many years back. Let's look back at some of the issues that I have had to constantly fight on for my local community. The NBN has been an issue and is still, after this government came to office in 2013 and ripped up a plan that was starting to deliver proper long-term results for communities by building the infrastructure right, first—first time. But of course, no; Tony Abbott, the then Prime Minister, thought that this was just about watching Netflix; he failed to understand the absolutely critical need of small businesses for at-home internet. Of course, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, when many people have been told that they have no other option but to work from home. I've heard countless frustrations from those my community who have had to rely on this government's infamous copper to the node, where new copper was laid where the old copper was. It is failing to deliver the results that so many residents need.
Of course, the government have sheepishly put out that, yes, they realise it's been a bit wrong and they're going to go back and pull up the copper they just laid and replace it with fibre. But only 10 per cent of households that are relying on this copper and the failed HFC network are actually going to benefit from this. That leaves the suburbs Aberfoyle Park, Flagstaff Hill and many others. Having had new copper laid, every time there's rainfall they lose their internet. They get promised speeds of up to 100 megabits by internet companies but can't get past 10 or 20 megabits. This is failure on a grand scale and shows the lack of vision that this government has had.
On more local issues, we've had failure in many grants programs. I think very much of the South Adelaide Football Club. It's a great football club. It wants women's change rooms. It dutifully applied for federal government funding for women's change rooms, and, I'm sure, was rated very highly by Sport Australia, but it was dudded during the sports rorts fiasco. It did not get the money it deserved for women's change rooms. Instead, the funding went to a rugby club in South Australia without women's sport, yet it was for women's change room facilities. My community, rightly, have given this government a big F for failure on the report card for this term. I'll be working hard as we approach the next election to make sure the positive alternative is put out there, and we will let the Australian people decide.
We on this side of the chamber always support appropriation bills. It's a legacy of the dark days when a Labor government was held to parliamentary ransom by a coalition that wouldn't respect the House of Representatives. We have a strong, principled position that we support appropriation bills even if we don't agree with every single thing that's in the particular bill. This is an appropriation of nearly $16 billion and covers a whole range of portfolio areas—from agriculture to defence to the digital economy and a whole range of other areas—but in relation to this bill, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022, I want to take the opportunity to speak generally about where the economy stands and where this government has, in my view, failed dismally.
Before they came to power, nearly a decade ago, the government promised there would be surpluses in every budget year, certainly in the first year and in every year thereafter. That's what the then member for North Sydney and shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, said. They haven't delivered one. It has been the longest period of consecutive deficits that this country has seen for 40 years or more. We on this side of the chamber, who have constantly been criticised on debt and deficit, won't take lectures from a government that has racked up a trillion dollars in debt, that has delivered deficit after deficit, and that wasted $20 billion on JobKeeper for businesses that didn't deserve it and didn't need it—that had made profits—when it wouldn't support casual workers or people in this country on visas, who had to rely on the generosity of the Australian community to maintain themselves.
This is a government that prides itself on being, allegedly, a low-taxing government. It's the second-highest-taxing government in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia, and it has had multiple failures. My community has seen that writ large. In the digital economy, as the member for Kingston talked about, there are whole suburbs in regional areas where they're going to have to rip up what they've done and, eventually, bring in fibre to the premises. One of the terrible legacies of the former Prime Minister and member for Warringah, Mr Tony Abbott, and the subsequent Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is the failure of the NBN, which has disadvantaged regional and rural communities massively. It's a point of equity and equality in this country: we need to have a digital economy that will help farmers, students and other people living in regional and rural communities to have the same opportunities as people living in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. But that's not happening. A government that have spent over $50 billion, when they promised that it would cost $29 billion and that they would have it all done years and years ago, are going to have to rip it all up again, in large part—and the HFC connections—and do it all over again. They should never have done it, the policy decision they undertook years ago. They should have done it once, done it right and done it with fibre, as Tony Windsor once said. So we need investment in roads and rail and digital infrastructure to improve the economy.
This government have failed on so many levels in terms of the economy. One of the things I want to talk about is their failure to accurately support wage claims and improvements in wages and conditions for workers. They have failed on 52 of the 55 forecasts when it came to wage increases. They have constantly failed. Even now they can't bring themselves to support wage increases in the aged-care sector. The election sweeteners that they'll dole out right up until the day of the election in May will only benefit six per cent of aged-care-sector workers, because the overwhelming majority of people who work in the aged-care sector who will get the benefit of this funding, this almost wage tokenism, are full-time workers—only six per cent. So many people will not benefit in any way whatsoever because they're casual workers and because they have been disadvantaged by a system that has been let down by the coalition. Whether you look at MYEFO 2015-16 or budget 2016-17, they indicate nearly $1.7 billion in cuts to the aged-care sector, a sector which has been put under tremendous strain by this government and its failures in terms of quarantine, vaccinations, the booster program, PPE and rapid antigen tests.
I have been to aged-care facilities in my electorate that are feeling the strain, with people losing jobs, shifts not being filled, people not getting the kind of support and care they need, and people struggling with COVID. The government has monumentally failed across this space, with a minister who thinks that the aged-care sector is doing exceptionally well. Over 700 people have died since January, and the minister thinks the sector is doing exceptionally well! Well, come and visit the aged-care facilities in my electorate. I was at one last Friday, Cabanda in Rosewood, which is a rural town in my home city, the City of Ipswich. Cabanda is struggling with PPE and RATs, increased costs because of COVID and a classification that's wrong—and I've raised that issue on a number of occasions in this chamber. But, when it comes to this, the government wants to take credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. They constantly talk up their achievements but fail to deliver. I want to give a couple of examples of that when it comes to the areas that I deal with as shadow minister for defence personnel and veterans' affairs.
I want to pay tribute to people like Glenn Kolomeitz, a lawyer who's been helping Afghan veterans, veterans in this space, and so many other people who've been supporting them in this area. They feel let down by a government that talked about their achievements in Afghanistan and the evacuation. We're thankful for everyone who has been evacuated and our ADF personnel who did it. But we have a moral obligation. This government didn't evacuate people quickly enough, and they didn't take up the offer from the Americans to evacuate people, and we're letting them down. There are still people over there—security guards, Afghan interpreters, people who worked with our embassy, people who worked with our people over there—who are still languishing under the Taliban and the despotic rule of the Taliban. What are we doing to get the out? Very little. It's not only a national security responsibility for this country to not let down those we supported in war and peacekeeping operations; it's also a moral obligation and an ethical obligation.
The impact on those veterans and the ADF is now writ large for all to see, because we now have a royal commission that was established after the work and advocacy of people like Nikki Jamieson, Karen Bird, Julie-Ann Finney and so many other people who pushed hard for a royal commission. It's sitting in Sydney right now. It was in Brisbane last year.
What have we heard during that time? We have heard about mental health issues, suicidal ideation. We have heard about bullying, bastardisation. We have heard about harassment, sexual assault. We have heard about people who have committed suicide and the impact on their families. This has been going on for quite some time. These are confronting issues, and they will confront not just the ADF but governments in the future. But this government has let us down and let the ADF and the veterans community down. Waiting times for the processing of claims are blowing out. The 100-day rule is just a nonsense. Twenty-eight per cent of applications for compensation are being dealt with within 100 days. Last year the Senate finance and public administration committee was given overwhelming evidence that, under the MRCA legislation, the DRCA legislation and the VEA legislation, claims are blowing out. There are 50,000 claims currently waiting to be processed. That came out in evidence to Senate estimates last night. This is having an impact on the mental health of our veterans and their families.
I want to finish on a bit of evidence that came out last night. We've got to go back to October last year, when the minister announced a McKinsey review. The government love privatising, labour hiring and outsourcing. One of their favourite organisations is McKinsey. So they spent $1.3 million on this external review. The minister said it was his action plan, which was going to be delivered by the end of last year. It was an action plan that was going to reform the Department of Veterans' Affairs, where still 34 per cent of the people who work there are labour hire, working for one of the 46 companies that the current government engage to deliver services. Why they don't lift the ideological cap and employ public servants who are experienced in the Public Service and the Department of Veterans' Affairs to complete the process in time I'll never know. But they spent $1.3 million on this McKinsey action plan. They've never released it. I've called for it multiple times, and they've never released it. In the House of Representatives chamber, the minister sat opposite me, and I called on him to release it. They still haven't released it. So the processing times keep blowing out.
We heard in Senate estimates last night that this review is a complete dud. It interviewed a total of two families and received only three formal submissions and 33 emails from the public. They spent $1.3 million of taxpayers' funds on this report to overhaul DVA claims in that period of time. Three months after it's been completed, we're told, its findings and its recommendations remain secret. That's one example—I could give so many—that says it all. The backlog of claims is getting worse in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and the evidence shows the outstanding number growing to 50,000 claims, as I said. A royal commission has heard evidence about veteran suicide being linked to the backlog of claims, and the royal commission said the backlog of claims is 'unacceptably high'. We've got a review that cost $1.3 million of taxpayers' money, and it is not being released. The recommendations are secret. As I say, there were three formal submissions and 33 emails and they interviewed two families. What did they do for $1.3 million? Two families! I say to the minister: release the report and the recommendations. This is the action plan. It reminds me of the mental health strategy they were going to do following the Productivity Commission report that came out on 2 July 2019. The response had a lot of blank pages and pictures and was a recitation, a litany, of government programs, with almost no recommendations, no action to be undertaken.
That's the legacy of this government with respect to the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the hundreds of thousands of people they interact with every day—$11.7 billion is spent every year by this department on hundreds of thousands of people. There are approximately 60,000 people in our ADF including reservists, and this government has let them down. They can't deliver submarines. They can't deliver defence platforms. They cancel future programs at huge costs. When dealing with our trusted allies and friends, like the French, they don't do the right thing in many respects in the way they deal with them. They also let their contractors down.
I say to the minister, when it comes to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, 'You're not achieving your defence personnel requirements.' In all the reviews we've been told that in not one year since 2016 has the ADF recruited the optimal number of people. Why? Because the government can't deal with them when they exit and transition in terms of housing and homelessness, in terms of employment and job opportunities, in terms of support for rehabilitation and compensation, in terms of claims. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has outsourced and privatised and used labour hire more than any other Commonwealth department. I say to the minister: 'Lift the ideological cap, reduce the backlog, release the McKinsey review and engage with the Labor opposition. Let's work with the recommendations of the royal commission and veterans communities around the country to improve the situation. Minister, do your job.'
by leave—To wrap up my remarks from last night, I had been talking about a very special constituent of mine, Mr Damien MacRae, and his son Aiden. In 2017 I brought some private member's business to this chamber highlighting that Damien, who unfortunately had been diagnosed with melanoma, was seeking to pursue some sort of initiative with his son to raise awareness of melanoma in a uniquely Australian way. They developed a sun smart beach themed LEGO project called 'LEGO Surf Rescue'. They managed to get the 10,000 supporters required for LEGO to consider this is as something that they would mass-produce. Unfortunately, LEGO turned them down. There was bipartisan support in this place for that to be acceded to. This project made the news recently when it was revealed under a headline on 11 February in the Sydney Morning Herald 'Lego accused of stealing beach set design from cancer patient and son':
… Mr MacRae was astonished to learn last week that Lego had released onto the market its own Beach Lifeguard Station …
… … …
Unlike the MacRae design, nobody was wearing a hat or sunscreen.
Probably unbeknownst to LEGO, Damien MacRae happens to be an intellectual property lawyer, so he's well aware that what could be minor changes in design would avoid breaches of copyright.
In my remaining time I'd like to implore LEGO to do the right thing and be good ethical citizens. I suspect that they have done very well—as some organisations have—out of the pandemic, being a time when globally LEGO, a very popular brand, has been turned to by people at various stages of lockdown not only for play but for mental health, in many cases, and good luck to them. But that's all the more reason that they should be good ethical citizens in this instance.
As was true, unfortunately, when I made those remarks in this place a number of years ago, Australia still has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world. Melanoma is often referred to as Australia's national cancer, and I want to acknowledge the member for Blaxland, who since that time has become a melanoma sufferer and is recovering. He has become a great advocate for melanoma prevention and awareness as well. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it's estimated that 1,300 people will die from melanoma in Australia this year. Early education designed to inform children in particular in a fun and innovative way, like using LEGO, could change these statistics for the better. On behalf of the people who live in Greenway, I implore LEGO to do better.
We recognise Damien and Aiden for their ongoing dedication to making the world a safer, more sun-smart place to live. I want to end with a few words that were provided to me:
I am angry and disappointed in LEGO now. When I told Aiden, who is 12 now, what has happened now he simply rolled his eyes. He doesn't want anything to do with LEGO now after this experience. I fear that the lesson I've now taught my son is not "to follow through on your ideas" but "don't bother following your ideas because some bigger fish will steal them from you for themselves".
The only other thing I'd say is that if LEGO had any decency they should also give some credit to my then 5-year-old son whose idea this project was.
I still love LEGO bricks. And I think there is still a place where we can have a win-win here. We don't want money, we just want LEGO to add sun safety features in their beach sets such as faces with sunscreen and sunscreen bottles. This would help educate kids and parents around the world including Denmark, which has the 4th highest rates of skin cancer in the world after Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. If Crown Princess Mary is Denmark's biggest supporter of teaching Danes about skin cancer and sun safety, surely Denmark's largest company can get behind this same message.
I certainly echo that. I thank Damien, Aiden and their family for their incredible resilience. Damien has survived to this point. I hope he continues to have a long and fulfilling life and that Aiden continues to have such a fantastic father.
In the meantime, LEGO, do the right thing. Even if it is not recognising in a monetary sense and in an intellectual property sense who actually had some contribution towards this, do exactly as Damien says—put sun-smart features on those creatures and put a sunscreen bottle there. If it prevents even one family from losing someone they love then that will be time and effort well spent.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022 are about appropriations and appropriations, as we all know, are about funding. Funding defines a government's priorities, its ideologies and its competency. That's what I will focus much of my remarks on today. On Wednesday in my three-minute statement I summarised some of the defining features that best characterise the past nine years of coalition governments. The list of matters I referred to was not comprehensive, so today I will restate those matters and provide some additional observations about our nation today.
We have a government that is beset by disgraced ministers, that has presided over the continuous mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has failed to secure adequate vaccine supplies, that has failed to secure personal protective equipment and that not only has failed to provide the latest rapid antigen test kits but did nothing about quarantine facilities. Then they paid billions of dollars in JobKeeper payments to very profitable companies that didn't need the money and whose profits soared while many deserving workers got absolutely nothing. It is estimated that the amount of money paid to profitable companies was around $20 billion—perhaps the biggest waste of public money that I have ever heard of.
Let me go to some of the other matters. We then had the $1 billion robodebt debacle, which not only cost $1 billion but I understand also cost the lives of people. Then there is the ongoing crisis in aged care. When you have to bring in the Army to assist in the aged-care sector that tells you that it is more than a crisis. I have never known of anything like that ever having to be done in the past. Yet we have a government that seems to want to just brush it to one side.
Across the country we have deterioration in our national health services. We have worsening inequality, with the highest 10 per cent of households by wealth now owning almost half of all wealth and the lowest 60 per cent owning just 16 per cent. Australian education outcomes have markedly fallen when compared with other countries. On climate change Australia now ranks near the bottom of 61 comparable countries on a global performance index. Australia now has the second-highest level of biodiversity deterioration in the world.
Then there is the Morrison government's total mismanagement of the NBN rollout which not only nearly doubled the cost from around $29 billion to well over $50 billion; NBN speeds in Australia are among the slowest in the developed world. The Great Barrier Reef is at serious risk, and we saw some acknowledgment of that a couple of weeks ago, when the government finally acknowledged that it needs to spend some money—too little, too late. Australian foreign aid contributions are at an all-time low. After nine years in office and now into its third proposal, the first nuclear submarine is not likely to be in service for another two decades, again leaving Australia vulnerable.
Whilst Australians call for more honesty in government, the Morrison government refuses to have a national integrity commission, but it has stacked the courts and the Administrative Appeals Tribunals with its mates, many of whom are underqualified for the job. In other attempts to avoid scrutiny, the Morrison government has cut $783 million from the ABC, and $14 million from the Audit Office. The coalition killed off Australian car making, but now pretentiously talks about backing Australian manufacturing. At a time that it is talking up national security, it has presided over the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin.
I go to some of the rorting—and, again, this is not a comprehensive list but some of the issues perhaps more publicly talked about. There was the $660 million car park fund, primarily used to fund questionable car parks in coalition held marginal seats. We had the $100 million sports rorts, again used to fund projects in coalition seats. There were millions of dollars in water buybacks, sometimes paid out at rates well above the market rate and, not surprisingly, to either people connected to or friends of the current government. We had the $220 million regional rorts program; the $3 billion road rorts program, where some 83 per cent of the funding went to coalition held seats; and the $150 million pool rorts fund, where again just about all the money went to coalition seats.
There was the $440 million Great Barrier Reef Foundation allocation, criticised by the Auditor-General and without any justification whatsoever. There's the $30 million paid for the Leppington Triangle airport land, again purchased at an estimated 10 times the market value. Even more concerning, the land was then leased back to the buyers at a value of less than $1 million. There's the $39 million allegedly improperly paid to an Australian shipbuilder, and the $1 million wasted on Clive Palmer's High Court challenge to the Western Australian border closures.
In the course of this debate, I've heard coalition speakers come into this chamber and boast about the number of projects they've been able to secure funding for in their electorate. What they were really doing was acknowledging the rorts of this government and how it channelled all of those funds into coalition held seats. The question today is whether Australia is in fact a better place after nine years of coalition governments and whether we could have done better over that time. More importantly, people are now asking, 'What are the emerging difficulties into the future, and who is best able to lead us through those difficulties?' Navigating difficulties takes good leadership, something that is sadly lacking in this government.
I begin by talking about the economy. The government claim that they are better economic managers. The claim is simply untrue, as many speakers from this side of the House have pointed out in their contributions to this debate. After this government has been in office for nine years, as has been pointed out by other speakers, national debt not only doubled before COVID but today is getting close to a trillion dollars. This is a government that has had nine years to get its house in order, to gets its economy in order and to get its budget in order—nine years. The excuse 'we had to correct the mistakes of the previous governments' ran out years ago. If they can't do it after nine years, when will they be able to do it? The reality is that they can't, because they do not have the competency.
We then go to housing ownership. That's one of the most critical issues in most people's lives. It's probably the biggest investment they will make. Ownership rates in Australia are falling. House prices are now skyrocketing. It's likely that most first home buyers who want to get into the housing market will never be able to do so unless they have very rich parents or are on very high incomes. For those who can get a loan, future interest rate rises are likely to cripple them. At the same time, public housing numbers across Australia are falling. Three decades ago, in my own state of South Australia, there were over 60,000 public houses available. Today the number is just over 30,000. Even if you add to that the community houses that are available, the figure for social housing is well below what it was three decades ago. No wonder we have people that are homeless and no wonder people are struggling to get a roof over their head. Housing security matters. Housing security, whether it's public housing, private rental or personal ownership, creates stability and certainty in life. That's why Labor's $10 million commitment to social and affordable housing, where 30,000 houses will be built, is so important.
The Morrison government also talks about building up the economy through immigration and the like. Again I see a government that constantly relies on population growth to grow the economy. If you look at the forward estimates, where economic growth is projected, it's all based on population growth. Economic growth should not be dependent on population growth. The 10 most livable countries in the world all have relatively stable populations, and most of them have a population of fewer than 10 million people. We should have a strong and growing economy, and population growth should not be used to prop up the economy but to allow further expansion of economic opportunities where workforce shortages are a constraint.
We then look at unemployment. The statistics on unemployment don't reveal the real situation. As is said time and time again, an hour of work a week is not employment. Today we have people that are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. And, even worse than that, those multiple jobs, even full-time jobs, have never been more insecure. Wages are stagnant. My concern is that, whilst unemployment rates appear to be falling, once the borders are fully open and overseas temporary visa holders, backpackers and students come back into the country, they will absorb many of the jobs that are currently available. So, unless we do something about securing jobs for people today, the situation will change again in future, as it has been doing for the last decade, where unemployment rates were much higher and underemployment rates were even worse.
Job security is critical for people's futures. It is the one thing that people care about more than anything else, because, without job security, they see no future. Yet again, I see a government that is prepared to allow people to come in, and rightly so in many cases, not only without ensuring the jobs in this country are secure for those people—because many of them are exploited when they come here and get work, and we have had plenty of evidence of that—but also without ensuring that people within Australia have the secure jobs that they are looking for. The situation is deteriorating. Most Australians do not have secure work. Even when people have full-time work, because of the changing nature of the economy, there is less security in any job today than ever before.
We now have a government that is clearly in its dying days. As I said in my three-minute statement, it has reached its use-by date. It has become an incompetent rabble, where even its own members are turning on each other and turning on their prime minister. Its rorts over the last nine years have become a lead weight around this government's neck. That's why they don't want an anticorruption commission. They have fought, tooth and nail, to stop that from happening. They talk about it, as we all know, but they don't really want it. They don't want it, because they don't want it to expose and inquire into their very own rorts. But that will change if we get a change of government.
I have no doubt that the coalition government of today will try to buy its way back into government when it hands down its budget next month. It will run a smear campaign against the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, as it has been trying to do over the last few weeks, and every day in question time in this chamber. It will run a fear campaign against Labor on national security, international security and taxation, and, again, we have seen that day in and day out. It is all they have left to campaign on. But it will take a lot more than that to save the Morrison government. It's time for an Albanese-led Labor government to take office in this country.
I rise today to highlight some of the many areas where people in my community are being failed and let down by the Morrison government, and the very real impact that is having on their lives. I'm sure that I am not the only one in this place whose office is currently inundated with NDIS participants and their families who are desperate for help. It is an absolute indictment on this government and the way it runs the NDIS that I currently employ a full-time staff member whose entire role, essentially, is taken up with helping participants and families navigate the NDIS system. The system is just not working as it should.
From the experiences people are relating to me, the story I'm hearing is one of parents lying awake at night with anxiety about what's going to happen when their child's plan comes up for review. It's a story of families breaking down because of the level of stress and anxiety they are carrying. And these are stories in one electorate alone. Imagine what is happening across our country because of this government's failure to take the NDIS seriously, to resource the scheme as it should and to respect people with disability, their families and their carers.
Some of the themes of what I'm hearing from NDIS participants and their families are of parents overwhelmed and in some cases emotionally beaten by the administrative barriers to getting support for their children. I'm hearing about long delays in decision-making. Sometimes, but not always, those delays can be overcome when my office intervenes and makes a representation, but it shouldn't take that. It shouldn't take people in our community having to go to their federal MP to be able to navigate a government system and get the support they need for a child or adult with disability. I'm hearing from parents who are at a point where they have actually just decided to disengage. The emotional trauma and the efforts they are going to are not worth it, so they are actually giving up on the system. What an indictment! Of course, like so many around the country, I am hearing of packages that are being slashed by tens of thousands of dollars after review and of the very real consequences that is having, particularly on children.
I want to go into some of the specifics of what families are raising with me, because I think it's important that they are aired in this place, but I'm not going to use names or any identifying factors, because those families have rightly asked me to respect their privacy. I can tell this place about a boy under 10 with autism spectrum disorder. He's had a reduction of tens of thousands of dollars on a previous plan. His mother said that, when she was needing to interact with an NDIS planner, those interactions came at times when she was caught feeling unprepared and off guard, and that had a negative impact on the outcome of her plan review. Since the plan has been slashed by tens of thousands of dollars, the boy's therapists and the boy's school have observed an escalation in concerning behaviours and a regress in his general coping.
His mother says: 'The lack of empathy and of a person centred approach exhibited by the NDIA towards my son and me has been cruel and dehumanising. This decision disregards his needs, shuts him down and keeps him separate from society. The lack of funding and formal support has left me having to decide which of my children's needs are more important. Without these supports, I must make heartbreaking decisions, as a mother, that could drastically change the future for my children.' She says: 'We are on the brink of a monumental breakdown, as a family unit, due to the sudden and extreme reduction in funding without explanation from the NDIA, despite us repeatedly asking them for a reason behind the decision. My family and I are literally drowning—emotionally, physically and financially—as a direct result of the sheer disregard and lack of support we've received from the NDIA.'
That should not be the case. This is not what the NDIS was set up to do. It was set up to give children and adults with a disability and their families the opportunity to live the best lives possible. Instead, it is causing families to break down—and that is on the Morrison government. A participant's wife contacted my office in December last year because, despite submitting plans and an application for a bathroom modification in March last year, they'd heard nothing from the NDIS. They submitted the plans in March. By December they still hadn't heard anything back from the NDIS, and all the while her husband's mobility was declining. In her email to my office she said, 'We don't usually send complaints, but this time I felt I needed to.' That's absolutely fair enough. How is it reasonable that she was waiting from March to December for a decision from the NDIS on a bathroom modification which had serious consequences for her husband's mobility?
A mother was told by the NDIA that there were no funds left in the plan of her son, who has a severe intellectual disability and complex behaviours. This meant he could no longer access his carers, therapists, day programs or any of his support services. This also meant his family were unable to attend or perform their usual occupations, due to having to take on the role of full-time carers. Obviously this led to high stress levels for the family, and there were wellbeing and safety concerns for both the NDIS participant and the family, given the extreme complex behaviours. This woman said that it meant limited access to the community, because of these complex behaviours, and that there were safety concerns for them. She was ringing the NDIA daily to try and get this addressed, but she didn't hear back. In desperation, she had to turn to my office for support.
As I said, it shouldn't be like this. The NDIS is a great system. It could be an even better system—one that supports all of these families, that doesn't tie them up in red tape, that doesn't send them down a bureaucratic rabbit hole that they can't get out of without contacting their federal MP. It could be a system that doesn't leave mothers lying awake at night, thinking: 'Which kid can I prioritise? What's the impact on my family? Are we all going to fall apart because I can't understand what's going on here?' It could be a system that doesn't mean that supports are ripped away from children, leaving families to deal with complex behaviours on their own.
As I said, the NDIS is a great Labor legacy, but it should not be operating in the way it does under this Morrison government. It's an urgent problem and it does need to be addressed urgently. Unfortunately, in the past fortnight in parliament we've seen nothing from the Morrison government that would address any of these issues in the NDIS and in the way they operate the scheme. So I call on them today to do the work. Listen to the families, which I'm sure are in communities on the other side as well. Make sure the system works as it should. It just shouldn't be this hard for all of these families. The NDIS should not be putting extra burdens and extra complexity on people.
Of course, it's not just the NDIS. We also know that aged care is in crisis in this country. And, once again, this government's response has been abysmal. Every elderly Australian should get quality care. All of the amazing people who are currently working in our aged care system should be supported. But that's not what's happening under this government. Have we been debating how we fixed aged care this fortnight? Has this government brought into this parliament urgent plans or urgent legislation to fix aged care? They have not. We got an announcement, about the ADF needing to come in—because the government had failed to fix the system, and we really are at crisis point—but now we know there's also an issue about the pace at which the ADF are being rolled out into nursing homes. And, obviously, using Defence in nursing homes is a short-term plan. There is a deep structural problem in aged care at the moment, and that means that older people in these aged-care facilities are not getting the dignified quality of life that they should.
I've spoken in this place before about one of the most heartbreaking things I've had to do as a local member, when, two years ago, I had to speak to families in my local community who'd lost loved ones in aged care at that stage of the COVID pandemic. It was a horrible thing for me to have to do, but it was obviously devastating for those families to have to understand what had happened and why their loved ones had died. That was two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic. We've had two years. We've had an entire royal commission. And still this government fails aged care. This government seems comfortable with people dying in aged care. This government seems comfortable with people not being able to visit their loved ones for months and months because homes are locked down. This government seems comfortable with overstretched, overstressed workers who are carrying a very, very difficult burden that they just should not have to—would not, if this government would do its job.
Well, I want to assure everyone in my community: Labor gets this. We know that aged care is in crisis. We know that this system needs the attention and support that it should have. We know that families in my community should not be worrying about their parents in aged care; they should know that those parents are safe and are having the quality of life that they deserve. Aged-care workers in my communities should not be doing 30-hour shifts while trying to run from bed to bed because there just aren't enough workers in the facility. This is not acceptable. We talk a lot in this place about respecting older Australians and about the work they did to build this country. Well, the way we honour that, the way we recognise that, is to have an aged-care system that works.
I urge the Morrison government to make this a focus, because Australians are watching. Australians know that you have failed, that you have left a system in crisis and that, more than two years into a pandemic, you have failed to make the changes we need. In fact, the minister responsible, instead of talking about what was going on in the system, went to the cricket—not just once, but for three days.
An opposition member: Shame.
Unbelievable, actually; unbelievable—if you think again about all the families in my electorate calling my office, asking: 'Can you help me to get in and see my mum? I can't understand why I can't get in,' or, 'I'm really worried because my dad hasn't had his booster shot yet and it's been pushed back for three weeks; can you help me understand why?' The minister wasn't providing my office with information around that; he was at the cricket. And this Prime Minister seems comfortable with that, despite being asked numerous times, this week and last week in this parliament, whether he retains confidence in his minister for aged-care services. Scott Morrison seems to be fine with that; he's not taking any action against that minister.
This points to a pattern from the Morrison government: a pattern of not looking out for everyone in our community; a pattern of not caring when the things that they are responsible for—the things that we should be able to rely on in our community—break, when they haven't been up to the job. This government hasn't stepped in and worked it out. This Prime Minister hasn't 'held a hose'. He hasn't done his job. The effects of that are being felt, still, in all of our communities—in my community, with families lying awake at night wondering what they're going to do with their young child with a disability, or how they're going to withstand the pressures that they're feeling at the moment, or if their mum in aged care is safe and when they'll be able to get in and see her again. This goes to the heart of what sort of country we want to be, of what sort of society we want to be.
Do we want to be a society where we leave people who are elderly and people who have a disability on the edges, or do we want to be a society where we make sure that everyone is treated with dignity, where all of us know that, no matter what situation we end up in, we will be supported as we should be and we will have a government that cares for us and understands that our community, our society, functions best when we respect everyone in it, and, most importantly, a government that just does its job, doesn't go to the cricket when there is an aged-care crisis, does hold a hose and does not play the ukulele and pull family stunts for a 60 Minutes special, a government that is interested in what's going on in people's lives in Australia and is concentrated on making those lives better? That is what a Labor government will provide to this country, and that is why we need an Anthony Albanese Labor government—to fix the mess this government has left us in.
I'm pleased to follow my colleague the member for Jagajaga and echo her sentiments. No person should be lying awake at night worried about their elderly family member in aged care. No parent or caregiver should be distressed about opportunities for their child living with a disability. In a country like Australia, everyone deserves a fair go. Everybody should be treated with respect and dignity. The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a light on the existing disparities that we have in Australia. They've only been amplified by this crisis. There are stark inequalities that we have within communities and between communities. My colleague here represents large parts of the Northern Territory, but we don't have to go as far as rural or remote Australia to see the problems that so many people have faced.
In my community, on the Central Coast of New South Wales, which is an hour and a half north of Sydney and an hour south of Newcastle, local business owners and families are just fed up with being neglected and left behind by this government. This started well before the failures of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the failures of quarantine, the bungled vaccine rollout and the desperate scramble for rapid antigen tests because the government just didn't shore up enough supply. After eight years of this government, the north end of the Central Coast, which I represent, always seems to miss out when it comes to jobs, road funding, skills and training scholarships, quality health care close to home, aged care—the list goes on and on and on. People in my community are hardworking people. They're capable. They've pulled together during this pandemic. But there are times when strong communities like mine need support, when they need a proper government that acts in their interests, where they're not left to a postcode lottery or a spreadsheet deciding who gets things and who doesn't.
How can we have a budget which has $1 trillion of debt and yet people are dying alone and afraid in aged care, young people are having their NDIS plans slashed and people who are looking for a secure place to live can't afford the rent? How can we have $1 trillion of debt and so many vulnerable people at risk and left exposed by the decisions of this government? Communities like mine deserve better. Communities across Australia deserve better. They deserve a government that governs for everyone. They deserve a government underpinned by respect, empathy and dignity. They shouldn't be left like this. The most vulnerable people in our community—frail elderly, young people with disability, people looking for work, women fleeing family violence—shouldn't be at risk and exposed because of the decisions or inaction of this government.
In a country like Australia, everyone, wherever they are born, live, grow up and age, should have a fair go to be able to live with dignity and respect. They should have a fair shot at education and training. They should have a secure job. They should have the opportunity to have their own home and to be able to support their own family. What do we need to see? We need to see access to quality education and training close to home. We need to see secure work, better conditions and steady careers. We need to see health care that you can afford when you need it and aged care at the end of your life. And yet what we're seeing is the exact opposite.
For example, in my community, when it comes to road funding, or any infrastructure funding, we constantly miss out. According to the NRMA, the Central Coast has one of the worst infrastructure backlogs in New South Wales, yet, at the same time, there are no local projects on Infrastructure Australia's priority list. The last major infrastructure project on the Central Coast was kicked off by the member for Grayndler when he was infrastructure minister—the last major infrastructure upgrade on the coast. In the 2021 budget the Morrison government announced more than $3 billion in priority road projects across the coast, but not a single cent was spent in Wyong, Tuggerah or Warnervale. In the 2019-20 budget, close to $70 million was allocated to the so-called Central Coast Roads Package, but a breakdown of the funding shows most of the money went to the neighbouring seat of Robertson, just south of my electorate. In fact, more than 90 per cent of the funding went to roads in Robertson. If you look at it per head, $419 per person was spent on roads in Robertson, but $39 per person was spent on roads in Dobell.
The north end of the Central Coast is the growth region. The north end of the Central Coast is where we have young families, and people ageing in place. The north end of the Central Coast has the biggest backlog of most regions in New South Wales, and yet what have we seen from this government? We've just been overlooked and left behind. Locals are crying out for investment to fix the Pacific Highway through Wyong and Bryant Drive at Tuggerah—two major bottlenecks in my community which are in desperate need of an upgrade. Transport projects like these would ease congestion, improve safety and create more local jobs, and they'd open up employment zones across the Central Coast. But this government is sitting on its hands and failing to invest in my community, and it's local people that are bearing the brunt of this government's failure.
Earlier I mentioned jobs and education. There are many people on the Central Coast, including young people, school leavers, looking for local jobs or, if they've got a job, looking for more secure work or more hours or a certain roster. At the same time, local businesses tell me they are looking to hire. But what everyone has said to me is that there aren't the affordable training opportunities close to home for people to gain the skills they need. I was talking to a young person I was on surf patrol with. I asked him what he was doing, and he said: 'Through COVID, I dropped out of school in year 11. It just got too tough. I've taken up a job with a local landscaper.' I said, 'Do you have an apprenticeship?' He said, 'I'd really need to travel to Ryde to get the training I need, so right now that's just not something that I can do.' Why should a young person have to travel an hour and a half to do a TAFE course to pick up the skills he needs to be able to get a steady job, to have a good career, to be able to support himself and contribute to our community and the local economy?
The government protest, but they have cut $3 billion from TAFE over the past eight years. My late father was a builder and an engineer and a TAFE teacher, and he was really proud of the quality of technical training that TAFE provided. He taught both at Ultimo TAFE and closer to Newcastle. But what we've seen under this government, and in New South Wales under the Liberal government, is that skills and training have been eroded across Australia. It's especially seen in regional and remote communities, with the costs involved for someone to travel to training or to move to Sydney to get those skills. They can't afford it on an apprentice's wage or in a traineeship. It just rules them out. It just means that they don't have the same shot, that they don't get a fair go—and from the get-go.
They government spruiked JobKeeper and JobSeeker and their success, though they were pushed to do it and lots of people were excluded. At the height of the pandemic, when work was scarce in my community, we were inundated with people who didn't meet the eligibility criteria, because it was so narrow or who, even though they were eligible, couldn't access the support when they needed it. I heard from a local hairdresser who was meant to open her business in June, in the peak of the pandemic on the Central Coast. She told me that she then had to use different credit cards and personal loans to be able to cover her costs, and she ended up driving for Menulog. She's got two children at home and she had a business that was set up and ready to go, and that's what she had to do during COVID to get by—and she did it. She is a hardworking, capable person, and now her business is open and doing well. But that was her experience, and that was avoidable. The distress because of the financial insecurity was avoidable, as it was for so many people like her, businesswomen across Australia. So, instead of making it easier for people to access the training or support they need to upskill, to get into the job market or to progress their career, the government are only making it harder for people. It's just not good enough.
We have to fix this. We need to fix this. Communities like mine, or anyone living outside of a big city, whether they're in the outer suburbs, the regions or remote Australia, need better than this. The government needs to make it easier for people to find work, for communities to get the funding they need and for locals to access quality health care.
Before I was elected, I worked at Wyong hospital in my community on the Central Coast of New South Wales. I just want to say this at this time. The government have praised health workers, and they've commended them, but do you know what healthcare workers are telling me? They're saying that the time for cupcakes and applause is over. What they need is proper pay and conditions. What they need is proper support to be able to do their jobs.
I heard from a father recently who spoke to me about his daughter who had to leave nursing. She was someone who loved her job. She was dedicated to supporting people and caring for them and working with our local community. She's receiving counselling and mental health support at the moment—and I understand she's doing better. But, because of the conditions that she had to work under, because of a role she had to step up to because others weren't able to do it, she's ended up in a mental health crisis.
This is avoidable. How can our government, our health minister and our aged-care minister say how much they value aged-care workers, disability support workers and healthcare workers and at the same time underpay them or have them working in conditions that are not safe for the people that they're trying to care for, the people that they're working with? It's a risk, and it has to change. It just cannot go on for people in my community or other communities like it. We need a government that genuinely cares about people. As someone said to me recently—they were reflecting on the government and their decision-making—'They just don't have any empathy. They just don't seem to care.' If you don't care and you don't know that these people are struggling, how are you going to be able to do anything about it?
What people in my community want is what anyone wants. They want to be able to have a place to live, a roof over their head. They want their children to be able to have a good education close to home. They want to be able to see a future for communities like mine, where communities are thriving. In my community our people are its strength. But there are times when even strong communities need support, and this is one of those times. We're going into the third year of a pandemic. People are exhausted. They're burnt out. They're vulnerable. Some of them are alone and afraid. And what has this government done? They've neglected them. They've abandoned them. When people most need a government, the government says, 'We need to get government out of the way.' What people need is a good government that acts in their interests and provides the proper support that they need.
Under a future Labor government Australia will be a country where everyone has a fair go, where, wherever you live or were born or grow up, you'll have a chance. Under a future Labor government we'll be a country that makes things again.
I met with a machinist recently, and he took me into his workshop and showed me the things that they used to make, including a weighing scale that they made for shopping centres. He said to me, 'I've been working as a machinist for 40 years. We had quality training. We had the most capable and skilled technical people.' He's in this workshop by himself. We've got workshops like that and people like him across Australia. We used to be a country that made things. We were a country that trained technical and skilled people. We should have that opportunity again.
After almost a decade of manufacturing being sent offshore and Australian workers being neglected under this government, Labor has a plan to bring things back to our shores. We once had a proud tradition of a manufacturing industry, creating thousands of local jobs. In a community like mine, we had a history of food and beverage manufacturing. We've got companies like Sanitarium, Master Foods and Kellogg's. What they need is a government that invests in them so that we can see an expansion and growth in jobs, especially outside of big cities. A Labor government will establish a Future Made in Australia Office, because we want to prioritise Australian businesses.
As I mentioned, there are so many talented, capable, motivated people living in communities like mine across Australia that haven't been given a shot. They haven't been given a fair go, and that's what they need. They need a government that will back them in.
A Labor government will also provide 465,000 free TAFE places, to encourage people to study in areas where there are skills shortages—people like the young man on surf patrol I was talking to you about, Madam Deputy Speaker. He deserves the opportunity to have a quality TAFE course that he can afford close to home to get the skills that he needs. He shouldn't be forced to get on a train to Sydney—and he couldn't afford to move to Sydney. People like him deserve a fair go.
What Australians need is a plan for the future, and one that brings all Australians together so that, wherever you're born, live, grow up or age, you have a fair shot and you know you can rely on a government that acts in your best interests. We need a change of government!
I'm pleased to speak on these appropriation bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and its cognate bill, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022. Labor is not in the habit of blocking supply. As is always the case, we will be supporting these bills, but this is an opportunity to put on record the disappointment of my community in the failure of the Morrison government to follow good governance principles and to deliver on what are core areas of concern for people living in my community.
Certainly, this is a government that has been racked with stories of mismanagement, impropriety, wastefulness and outright corruption. There has been allegation after allegation about the way in which the government makes decisions and, accordingly, appropriates funds. We've seen the colossal distress in our communities caused by robodebt—again, where the government is simply not acting legally—followed up by car rorts and a whole lot of other inappropriate uses of funds. Not just is it wasteful to expend public money in such a shoddy manner; it is downright insulting to people in communities like Newcastle, who seem to constantly miss out. The government are blinded by their blinkers.
I want to go now to an organisation which was caught in the middle of the despicable behaviour that we now identify as sports rorts. Newcastle Olympic Football Club is one of the many sporting organisations that got dudded by this government's infamous sports rorts. It was cheated out of half a million dollars, despite its hard work and excellent submission. An independent assessment gave them a very high score, much higher than many others and one that ordinarily would have enabled them to be granted the funds, but we watched those in government-held seats, some of whom had received much lower scores indeed, get the funding. If the government had done the right thing then, Newcastle Olympic Football Club would have upgraded facilities by now; instead, they will now have to spend years trying to secure money from other sources, all the while watching construction costs skyrocket. This project is going to be infinitely more expensive now than it would have been when they put in their proposal for what, I must say, is a much-needed upgrade of their facilities. Newcastle Olympic Football Club has been selected as a training venue for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, which is great, but that is in doubt because of this shameful rorting of public money. Any club that's trying to increase women's sporting participation should be rewarded, in my view, not ripped off by a government addicted to rorting and skewing public funds.
Another example of that has been the use of the Building Better Regions Fund. We know that in the most recent round there was some $300 million in funding available. But $270 of that went to coalition and marginally held seats. These rorts prevent great shovel-ready projects from proceeding, although they should, on any merits based assessment, get the tick. I deeply regret that projects in my electorate have missed out, like the $8.5 million for the revitalisation of the Victoria Theatre, which seems to have been completely overlooked. There's also the $2.5 million small business support centre that is absolutely needed in my community but missed out on funding altogether. You would think that in a post-COVID reconstruction phase shovel-ready projects that have widespread community support and great cost-benefit analysis would be rewarded by this government, but that is sadly not the case.
Another matter that I want to bring to the attention of the House is how appalling it is that in 2022 we find ourselves unable to use mobile phones in our homes if we live in certain parts of even Newcastle, the second-largest city in New South Wales. I continue to get complaints from constituents in the northern part of Stockton who are unable to make use of their smart phones. We all know that every day we are increasingly reliant upon our smart phones. It astonishes me, but it is in keeping with the botching of the telecommunications rollout in this country under this government. We've seen the complete botch of the National Broadband Network scheme. It will take a new government, an Albanese Labor government, to remedy a far from satisfactory attempt to use multiple kinds of technologies to patch together what should have been one of the biggest nation-building projects Australia has seen. We were told it would deliver remarkable results for people whatever they live in Australia.
That was the intent, but it has failed. People like Mr William Snow have been in my electorate office trying to get support for tackling this apparent blackspot in the northern parts of Stockton, in Newcastle. But the Morrison government's blackspot program of course doesn't cover people in my community. Their own program to rectify this problem excludes communities like Stockton from being eligible. It is a pity that we do not see a stronger commitment to ensuring that telecommunications, whether phone services or internet services, are the very best they can be wherever you live in Australia. Heaven help those living in remote rural parts of Australia, if you can't get good telecommunications in the second-largest city in New South Wales.
I'd also like to touch on a matter that has been very distressing for my community, and that is the terrible difficulty that Afghani refugees are having in trying to seek entry to Australia. Like many Australians, I watched with horror as we saw the Taliban resume control of Kabul. I have many, many distressed people in my electorate, including Afghani Australians and defence personnel who had served alongside Afghani men and women, and I share their pain and their heartache. It's been almost six months since people fled Kabul in those scenes of apparent trauma, distress and a state of emergency. Afghani Australians are especially distraught as they have not even received acknowledgement for visa applications they have submitted for their loved ones, who are in life-threatening situations, from the Department of Home Affairs. Six months after the return of the Taliban to power, no humanitarian visas have been granted by the Australian government. The government said that they would prioritise visa applications for people with links to Australia, and women and children, but I have literally hundreds of my constituents contacting me who have submitted urgent visa applications for their family members but are being completely left in the dark by this government. The government has not acted with urgency.
A few weeks ago, after a scathing Senate committee report criticised the government's lack of action, the government announced that it would be allocating 15,000 visas to Afghan nationals. But what was missing from that headline was the fact that the allocation would be made over the next four years and that the humanitarian visas would come out of the already existing annual humanitarian program of 13,750. I also understand that 4,300 Afghans evacuated in August last year will also be counted as part of the 15,000 humanitarian places over the next four years. So we find that this government announcement, like so many when you scratch the surface, actually reduces the number of newly allocated places. This announcement completely fails to address the urgent need for an expansion of protective resettlement of Afghans who are in imminent danger from the Taliban regime. The Australian government can and must do so much more for the people of Afghanistan. For so many Afghans who risked their lives serving alongside our ADF personnel, a four-year wait under Taliban rule will have lethal consequences. They should be able to come and join their families in Australia. That was the priority they were given by this government, and it should be honoured.
In the time remaining, I'd just like to touch on two other issues. One is GP shortages in my electorate and the other is the crisis in housing. In 1975, it was the Whitlam government, of course, that made the historic introduction of universal healthcare to Australia to ensure that your access to healthcare was never reliant on some kind of postcode lottery or dependent on the amount of money you had in your bank account. Ever since, however, we have seen ongoing efforts by consecutive conservative governments to chip away at the universality of our healthcare.
Recent cuts to bulk-billing incentives and Medicare rebates, alongside the despicable closure on Christmas Eve of a GP after-hours service that was attached to the Calvary Mater hospital in my electorate, have resulted in devastating impacts for people in my community. Time and time again, the people of Newcastle tell me they cannot find a bulk-billing GP. That is a direct result of the Morrison government's withdrawal of bulk-billing incentive payments. People who can afford to go to a non-bulk-billing doctor tell me that they can't actually get an appointment see that that doctor. That again is a direct result of the Morrison government's decision to remove areas like Newcastle and the Hunter region from the distribution priority area classification list.
It's made it extremely difficult for local medical practices to recruit and retain doctors. The Fletcher Clinic in my electorate is one of many GP clinics across Newcastle affected by this decision. Madison, the practice manager at the Fletcher Clinic, told me they are in desperate need of a new doctor. They are working overtime to meet demand, which has only been made worse by the pandemic. They are concerned that they can't meet existing need, and there is a whole new housing development proposal for Minmi, and there are other new housing areas that are proceeding in the district, that will bring increased demand. They already have 6½ thousand patients on their books today. This reckless act by the Morrison government will simply add to further health inequality in Australia—and it certainly wouldn't happen on the North Shore of Sydney or, might I say, in the Sutherland shire.
Finally, I want to touch on the fact that Australia, and Newcastle in particular, is facing a housing crisis. Novocastrians are now waiting five to 10 years on social housing waiting lists. Thirty-one per cent of public housing dwellings in New South Wales don't meet basic minimal standards. They're the worst in the country, in fact. Now almost one-third of public housing households live in dirty and unsafe conditions.
In the last 12 months private rentals have increased in my electorate by nearly $5,000 in some suburbs, like Mayfield West. Nurses, teachers and tradies can't take up jobs in our regions because they can't find places to live. Open houses become more like mosh pits because families can't find a place to call home. Police were needed to be called to manage the chaos of crowds of up to 200 people desperate to inspect a property.
The system is broken. For nearly a decade this Liberal government has ignored the urgent need for social and affordable housing, saying, 'It's not our problem.' Well, it is. We need national leadership. No more delays and no more excuses, Mr Morrison. Now is the time to fix Australia's housing crisis. (Time expired)
I too wish to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022. It is an opportunity to talk about the spending of the government but also to look at areas where money isn't being spent properly and areas where money should have been spent.
The Morrison government is all about distraction. Because there could be an election called at some stage in March, these last two weeks of parliament may be the end of this parliamentary session. You would think the government would come to this place with bills that had a better vision for Australia and the betterment of our next generation of Australians, a better plan for pensioners and a better plan for creating jobs and some good infrastructure that creates local jobs. Instead, in the last two weeks of parliament we have seen bills that have been divisive, wedge politics and issues that are not for the betterment of this country. The government is all about distraction, as I said, instead of taking action on the things that matter to Australians. We deserve an economy that works for the Australian people, not the other way round. This country deserves a government that actually puts them first and not politics first. That's all we've seen here in the last two weeks.
In the last two weeks there has been a tirade on the Leader of the Opposition. There have been all sorts of comments about fiscal responsibility, him not having had a treasury position and a range of other things. Our side of politics, the Labor Party, shouldn't be lectured on fiscal responsibility by the most wasteful government since Federation. We shouldn't be lectured by a government that doubled the debt before the pandemic. Before the pandemic the debt had been doubled. Despite the rhetoric from the government, it is one of the highest-taxing governments of the last 30 years. It is now collecting approximately $4,500 more from each Australian than when Labor was last in government in 2013. That is, $4,500 more on average from every single Australian since Labor was in government in 2013.
When you look at their track record over the last three years you see that they have had major failings. They failed on the vaccine rollout. They didn't deliver one new federal quarantine facility. They didn't order enough rapid antigen tests. They presided over a crisis in aged care. They disappeared when workers and small businesses needed help the most. I spoke to many small businesses in my electorate, as many of you would have. They told me of the trials, tribulations and difficult times they were having. We saw the government splash around billions of dollars on JobKeeper payments to businesses. Many did quite well out of it. We saw businesses whose takings tripled still receive billions of dollars in JobKeeper.
The failures aren't limited to budgetary matters either. We know that the economy is suffering under this government's watch. Productivity has been flatlining, and poor productivity performance means a smaller economy that's growing less than it could be. Another decade of failed productivity targets would leave very hardworking Australians—Australian families—worse off.
Something that this Prime Minister and Treasurer and this government will never understand is that you can't rort and waste your way to productivity growth. To really get productivity moving, we need investment in energy, technology, infrastructure and human capital—in people and not politics. We need investment in infrastructure that will propel our economy forward, cleaner and cheaper energy and an NBN that will underpin our digital economy.
We need a plan to train people through the TAFE and university systems and more university places to fill skills shortages, now and into the future. Last week I met with Engineers Australia and they told me that there is not a single course in this country for nuclear engineers—not a single course in this country—and, on the other hand, we're talking about building nuclear-powered submarines. Who's going to do it? And there's no plan in place. There is no training facility. There is nowhere that someone can train as a nuclear engineer to be able to work on the nuclear-powered submarines.
We cannot afford another decade like this. This government has just looked at quick fixes, pointscoring and political fixes, not fixes to get this country on its feet to be a power in the future.
You can see this when you look at different areas, and the pension is an area I've spoken about many times in this place. This government has a very bad track record on supporting pensioners. We've become used to seeing the government try and chip away at people's aged pensions, ever since they've been in government. When we look at them, that's all that they've done when it comes to policies on pensions—pensions for people who have worked hard and contributed to our economy and our society all their lives.
When Labor was last in government, there was an actual increase of $30, on top of CPIs, on top of other increases that come naturally throughout the course of the year—an actual increase. Over the last seven years, this government's track record has been to cut, or to try to cut, the pension, time and time again. And it's on the record. In 2014, in their first budget, they tried to cut the pension indexation, and, as I've said, that cut would have meant that pensioners would have been forced to live on $80 less a week within 10 years. In that same year, they cut a billion dollars from pensioner concessions. Then they axed the $900 seniors supplement to self-funded retirees holding the Commonwealth healthcare card. In 2015, they did a deal with the Greens to cut the pension to around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. The pension assets test—in other words, the amount that you can have in assets and still receive the pension—since it came into being has always been increased, not decreased, because the cost of living goes up and everything goes up with it. This was the first government that actually decreased it—brought it down. That affected, as I said, 370,000 pensioners—including many in my electorate who perhaps had very small assets and were receiving a part pension and a part income from some of those very small assets. At the same time, the government tried to cut the pension for over 1.5 million Australians by scrapping the energy supplement for pensioners.
The list goes on and on. We can look at another debacle that has taken place, and that is the NDIS—and we heard others speak about the NDIS in this place earlier. When we introduced the NDIS, it was the only national scheme of its kind in the world—something to be very proud of. It was designed to revolutionise disability care and put choice and dignity at the forefront for people living with disabilities. It was the envy of the world. But this Liberal Morrison government, since coming into office, has done nothing but undermine the scheme, through ripping $4.6 billion out of the NDIS; through people receiving services, for example, that they don't need—and I hear this all the time in my electorate—while being denied the services that they actually require to live with dignity; and through difficult, complicated application and review processes, with 1,200 Australians with disability dying while waiting to be funded by the scheme. This is a government that has no real interest in the NDIS. If it did, it would be fixing it. There would be a bill before the House on how to better the NDIS, not the wedge politics we've been seeing over the last few weeks.
This being an appropriations bill, it's obviously about funding and monetary policies, and it takes me to infrastructure. The Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have made a mockery in my electorate of the North-South Motorway. They've been delaying money in every budget since 2013. I have to say that it was a Labor initiative. I was there with the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, in 2013 when we turned the first sod. It was a Labor initiative. We saw the Prime Minister flying into Adelaide last weekend to make a commitment for the North-South Motorway. But South Australians have woken up to this government. We can't trust that this money will ever come, let alone when it was promised, as has been the history since 2013, when they came into government. How many more times will the government reannounce funding for this project instead of actually getting on with delivering it? Infrastructure projects are key job creators. If you want to create jobs and boost the economy, it's done through good infrastructure, and this government has dismally failed on this.
Construction of the final passage of the North-South Corridor has come to a standstill. Last year, documents leaked by members of the state Liberal government showed that the North-South Corridor upgrade may not be completed until possibly 2035, a decade later than was originally planned by Labor. This means that we could experience five federal elections, four Olympic Games, until this upgrade is complete. This means greater uncertainty for businesses and residents. It means people are being left in limbo at a time when business confidence is at an all time low. We have seen a government that again plays wedge politics instead of putting bills before this House in this cycle of parliament to better the economy and to make Australia a better country. They're more interested in politics than the betterment of this nation.
Health care and Medicare are more important areas that this government has neglected. The pandemic has shown us how important our healthcare system is, but this government can't be trusted with it. It recently launched its biggest attack on Medicare in decades. To use the recent Victorian COVID-19 outbreak to sneak in almost 1,000 changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule is just wrong on so many levels. These changes would radically alter the cost of hundreds of orthopaedic, cardiac and general surgery items. And the Morrison government's plan to cut Medicare rebates means patients must choose between cancelling life-changing surgeries and being hit with huge bills that they can't afford to pay or that they were never told about. Many are finding that surprise when they go for surgery. It's estimated that, in South Australia, patients are paying around 33 per cent more out of pocket for non-referral visits, compared to 2013.
We've seen a government that—from 2013, when they were elected—have said that they have a vision for this nation, but their only vision is that they stay in power. That's their No. 1 goal. As I said, at this stage of the cycle of the three-year term—when we should be seeing debates and bills in this place about our education system, about bettering our training systems, about health care and about giving pensioners some certainty and dignity in their lives—we're seeing the typical wedge politics and scaremongering. We're seeing division, which they want to create, in the community through the bills that they have brought to this House—on what they thought were the most important things to discuss in these last few weeks. Australians are smarter than that. Australians know that the things that keep this country going—the things that matter to them—are education for their kids, a good healthcare system when they need it and secure work. They're the three things that the nation requires at this moment, but this government is more interested in playing politics and staying in power at any cost.
Those opposite have been in government for almost a decade, and over that time we've seen many, many failures, the biggest one of all being the pandemic. As I said, not a single quarantine facility has been built, when all the advice coming from the health bureaucrats and the experts was that we need a facility to house people for a period of time when they come into the country. We saw the spread of the pandemic. Yes, we did do better than most nations at the beginning, but when you see the things that weren't put in place, like the rapid antigen tests—I wrote, personally, to the health minister back in May last year, suggesting that we have rapid antigen tests, and the answer that came back was a no. Unfortunately, we have a government that is only interested in politics and securing its own future, not Australia's future.
Today the front page of the Australian tells a story of how, across the nation, 700 BHP workers are facing the sack. Seven hundred Australians are being thrown out of their jobs, and yet we hardly hear a whimper about this from either side of politics. Where is the party of the workers, who say they stand for the workers of this country? Where are they when it comes to arguing for the 700 BHP workers that are being sacked? They're being sacked not for poor job performance or for anything that they've done wrong but because they have decided to exercise what should be their right in a democratic society. Whether you participate in a medical experiment, whether you undertake a medical intervention, should be your free choice in a democracy. Your job should not be held hostage because you've decided not to participate in a medical experiment.
Seven hundred workers across the nation, today, are being thrown out by BHP, and that is on top of the tens of thousands of workers that have already lost their jobs—teachers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, retail workers and truck drivers. Across all sectors of our economy, people have been thrown out of work because they have simply decided to exercise what must be a right in a democratic society. No democratic society should mandate the injection of a substance into your body just to keep your job. In many cases, this is more than just people's jobs; it's people's careers that are being thrown out. Teachers are losing not only their job but their career. Ambulance officers and paramedics, who we rely upon, are today sitting on the sidelines of our economy because they've decided not to get injected with one of these experimental COVID vaccines.
This is the shameful day for our nation. But what is even more shameful is the lack the people in this parliament that are speaking up and using their voice against it. The economy is not doing so well that we can afford 700 mining workers in BHP to be no longer working in that industry. We're looking down the barrel of a $1.4 trillion debt, and we're telling these people that they cannot participate in the economy? The party of the workers is silent about these workers losing their jobs—absolutely silent. It's hard to know what's worse: those in this parliament that actually think that the government and big industry and big medical and big pharma and the bureaucrats here in Canberra know better and should force you, against your will, to be injected—they think that it's okay to have a society where your freedoms are all held hostage to the point of a needle; or, equally, the number of people in this House that know in their heart that that is wrong, that know in their conscience that that is wrong, but come to this parliament and say nothing about it.
To mandate an injection, to mandate a medical intervention—and not just any old medical intervention; a medical intervention with an mRNA vaccine, a substance that has never been injected into humans before, that we have no long-term safety data for—is not only unethical, immoral, a breach of human rights but simply darn un-Australian, and more of us need to use our voices to stick up against it. What's even worse, there may have been an argument six months ago, 12 months ago, when we had all those experts stand up and say, 'If you get injected, you can't catch COVID and you can't spread it'—that was what was told to the general public, where they talked about 90 per cent plus efficacy. That's what we were promised. That's what this was sold upon. We now know that is completely untrue.
It's not only untrue. If we want to see how idiotic and how stupid these mandates are, and how counterproductive they are, just look at the latest data out of the United Kingdom, from the official UK Health Security Agency. In their weekly COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report, for week 6 of the year, 10 February, just have a look at what that data shows. You'd think these mandates would mean that, if you've been injected, you are less likely to have COVID. That is the entire premise behind it. But look what the data shows. Look at the rates of cases reported between week 2 and week 5 of 2022, a four-week period. In the UK, of those aged 30 to 39, there was a 4.9 per cent COVID-positive rate amongst those who were injected not once, not twice, but three times! A 4.9 per cent infection rate over that month amongst those injected three times. But for those not injected at all, those that are vaccine free, that supposedly have a higher rate of COVID, it's actually just over two per cent. So the rates of infection in the UK in the 30 to 39 age bracket are less than half amongst those that are vaccine free, compared to those that have been jabbed not once, not twice, but three times—a 140 per cent difference. It's the same for the 40 to 49 age group, where there's a 172 per cent greater probability of having COVID if you've been injected three times, compared to a vaccine-free person. For my age bracket, those that are 50 to 59 years old, there's a 2.6 per cent infection rate for those injected three times, but for those not injected, those vaccine free, just 1.167 per cent—a 120 per cent higher rate of infection amongst the triple-jabbed than amongst those that are vaccine free.
With that data, how can anyone possibly mandate these injections? It should be a free choice in a free society. Yet here we have thousands of Australians—we saw them here on the weekend, the largest protest ever in this nation's history—protesting just for the right to work in a free, democratic society. We have taken that right away from them. We have the constitutional power here in this parliament to end these insane, illogical, unethical, immoral, un-Australian mandates. We have the constitutional power here today to end them if we want to. But, sadly, there are so many in this parliament that are happy to see these mandates go ahead because they think that it gives them some extra protection. They are prepared to sell out the human rights of other Australians because they think they might get some benefit from it. They think it may somehow be not popular.
We've got to stand up for what is right in this parliament, and it is not right that 700 Australians are losing their jobs today, 700 BHP workers. It is not right that teachers are being told they can't go back into the classroom to teach in front of their children, because they have decided to be vaccine free. It is not right, when our hospitals around the nation are in chaos and the queues are lengthening, that we have paramedics and ambulance officers stood down, unable to work in the hospital system because they've decided to be vaccine free. I would hope that more members of this parliament would speak up. I know that, at the moment, this is not popular, but let me tell you: history will judge us on the decisions that we are making, history will record that this parliament stood by and did nothing, and history will condemn this parliament for those actions.
In the years to come, parliamentarians will look back upon this parliament, look upon the actions of every single member of this parliament, and say, 'What did you do to stand up and fight against those illogical abuses of human rights, those vaccine mandates?' Sadly, there are very few of us that will be able to say that we've stood by to fight the good fight. We weren't concerned about the attacks upon us in the media, because we called it out according to our conscience. And my conscience tells me that what is happening is completely and utterly wrong. It's contrary to everything that I believe in: freedom of choice, freedom of bodily autonomy. If you don't have the freedom to decide what substances you will inject into your body, what's the point of any other freedoms? Our freedoms of medical choice, our freedoms of economic opportunity, our freedoms of personal travel are all subject and dependent and interlinked. When we break one, we break them all.
Turning to the election, there are only a few sitting days left in this parliament. I hope that, in the month's break that we have before budget week, many other members of parliament will look into deep into their conscience and speak out about how wrong this is and stand up for those Australian workers. Every Australian worker that has been sacked because of these vaccine mandates must have their job back. We can do it in this parliament, if only we have the courage.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.