Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail
Before I call the minister to propose the schedule for the order of consideration of the portfolios, I would like to remind all members of the purpose of the consideration in detail stage and outline the way in which it is expected to proceed. Shortly, the Federation Chamber will be asked to agree to a proposed schedule for consideration of portfolios. This may need to be varied, but it is a useful guide to assist ministers and members to arrange their commitments.
Consideration in detail is a debate, and the call will be alternated between government and non-government sides as always. Even though this debate sometimes takes the format of question and answer, this is not question time. Ministers and government backbench members, both, will be considered as speakers on the government side and should bear this in mind when they seek the call. All speakers are required to be relevant to whichever portfolio is being examined, but there is no requirement of direct relevance in respect of any responses. It might be practical for ministers to respond to more than one speaker when they seek the call. I note that this is a general arrangement applied in recent years and seemed to allow maximum participation in the stage of the debate.
Each minister and member will have up to five minutes to speak each time they are called, but they may wish to speak for a shorter time. Ministers may wish to speak first and make an introductory statement when debate on their portfolio begins, but that is a matter for them to decide. Members might also be aware of some administrative documents that are circulating when consideration in detail begins. Just to avoid confusion, let me say that any documents showing times allotted for debate on portfolios are informal and indicative only. Chairs will not be seeking to enforce these times strictly.
In accordance with standing order 149, the Federation Chamber will first consider the schedule of the bill.
May I suggest that it might suit the convenience of the Federation Chamber to consider the items of proposed expenditure in the order shown in the schedule, which has been circulated to honourable members. I also take the opportunity to indicate to the Federation Chamber that the proposed order for consideration of portfolios' estimates has been discussed with the opposition, and there has been no objection to what is proposed.
The schedule read as follows—
Industry, Science and Resources
Health and Aged Care
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts
Foreign Affairs and Trade
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
Employment and Workplace Relations
Prime Minister and Cabinet
Is it the wish of the Federation Chamber to consider the items of proposed expenditure in the order suggested by the minister? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
Proposed expenditure, $647,416,000
I acknowledge the significant investment in defence which the government is making in this budget. The budget delivers on the government's election commitments, and defence funding is projected to increase to more than two per cent of GDP over the forward estimates, the highest in decades. I think it's fair to say that most acknowledge that we will need additional investment in coming years, as well, as we contemplate the impact of the DSR nuclear submarines and other things left unfunded by the previous government but are necessary.
We will be waiting a long time, I expect, for an apology from those opposite for the disgraceful scare campaign they ran during the election about what Labor would do with defence. Some $270 billion in defence capability is committed over the decade to 2029-30, with new and targeted initiatives. I particularly note—and the minister may want to provide more information about this—the $5.1 million committed to research and development into biofuels to support renewable fuel production. Fuel security, of course, is so important, but there's a fact that was lost on the former government: you've got to actually have the fuel in Australia, not in Texas. The former government, for nearly a decade, presided over a degradation of our refinery capabilities and a failure to go anywhere near meeting the international benchmarks for fuel storage, and then, in a con trick, they signed a contract for some petrol that's still sitting in America. 'Underwhelming' would be an understatement of their performance.
I welcome the new Australia Pacific defence school to train Pacific island countries' defence and security forces. That is a strategic investment to help our friends in our Pacific family. It is also demonstrably in our national interest. It's a question the minister might have a view on. I wonder whether the minister has any insights into whether the opposition will try and play tawdry politics with this, like they do with climate change and helping the Pacific. Climate change, of course, is a national security issue—a point, again, lost on those opposite. Thank you, member for Bass for nodding. I acknowledge that it must be difficult for the Liberals, after a decade of decay, dysfunction and disgraceful mismanagement of defence, to have to watch competent ministers start to clean up their mess.
They are serious concerns. The Australian National Audit Office and defence data—independent, reputable, reliable data—show that major defence projects totalling $69 billion are facing major delays and overruns. Twenty-eight of those projects have racked up a cumulative 97 years behind schedule. That involves ships, planes, satellites, battle command systems—things that are absolutely critical if we're to provide credible deterrence. There are many examples, but I would suggest to the chamber that defence is the most egregious example of the former government's—and the former Prime Minister's—pattern of announcing things but not actually delivering and not having a plan to deliver. We saw, just before the election, one of those little announcements they popped out, thinking, 'Maybe this will get us a couple of votes.' They said, 'We're going to have 20,000 new members of the ADF over the next decade or thereabouts.' It was a $38 billion commitment with no detail and still no plan as to how they were actually going to deliver it.
This is really critical stuff. As our strategic circumstances continue to deteriorate—the worst position we've been in since World War II—we've inherited a budget that was riddled with rorts, waste and delays. The waste is amazing. There are already $6.5 billion of cost blowouts that we've got to manage in just a small number of projects. Then there are the submarines. In 10 years in office, not a single submarine was actually ordered, but billions of dollars was flushed down the toilet. As the Deputy Prime Minister said, you can't go into battle waving a press release. You can't confront the enemy and say, 'Just hold on a minute, I've got the budget papers, which pencil in a bit of money.' You can't say: 'Please don't shoot! I've got a video from Scotty from marketing making an announcement about something that might happen'—I'm sorry. I withdraw that: the member for Cook. Members should be addressed by their correct titles and be given the respect they deserve. Twenty thousand in 10 years! Unbelievable!
The government didn't make this mess, but we are taking responsibility for cleaning it up, and it will be a long hard road to do so. I would ask the minister to outline to the chamber what steps we're taking to improve delivery and revitalise the projects of concern and interest. The fact is, as we've already seen over six months, that Labor is better on national security and defence than the coalition. We've got the Defence Strategic Review and the force posture update—the most significant strategic review of defence since the 1980s when Kim Beazley did it. We've also had the same four ministers for the last six months. Astounding! You'd need more than fingers and toes to count how many defence ministers the opposition had when they were in government and created this mess. So I commend the budget appropriation for defence to the parliament.
I want to pick up on what the member for Bruce said. The Fuel Security Act 2021 provides a legislative framework for a government to establish a national fuel reserve through an industry minimum stockholding obligation, and it's something that we funded for the bill. I'd like to also make note that whilst a lot of my questions were meant to be going to the Minister for Defence, he's not here today. He's sent in the B-team—not even a cabinet minister—on his behalf to come here and answer questions. I'm not expecting much from this new government, and neither can anyone in defence.
We are in some of the most uncertain circumstances since World War II. We need to be constantly looking to improve our capability and invest in our people so we're ready for whatever's around the corner. That's why the former coalition government took the important decision to ensure our soldiers on the front line have the right kit, and to ensure the men and women who put on the uniform every day, with the Australian flag on their shoulder, have the tools they need to do their job. We must be completely satisfied that they have everything they need to do their duty and that is to fight and win our wars.
Those important decisions have now been cast under a cloud of uncertainty after the recent change of government. Projects that are meant to have been announced have stalled or been put on hold. That's not surprising after the minister announced the Defence Strategic Review would be led by a former Labor defence minister who presided over the biggest cuts to Defence since 1938. We're not against reviews. We need to just ensure that this isn't a disguise for more cuts. The defence minister consistently used the review as a stalling tactic when questioned on ongoing projects and procurements.
Today I'd like to encourage the defence minister, who's not here today, so the Minister for Veterans Affairs who's here on his behalf, to tell the Australian people and to tell the brave men and women who serve our nation, that there is certainty for certain projects like Land 400 Phase 3 and the Black Hawks. The minister is well aware of the issues that have been plaguing the MRH-90 Taipans. There have been nine instances where the helicopters have been unable to fly in the last year, and $37 million has been spent by Defence to hire civilian helicopters to maintain capability while they were grounded. They have not been fit for purpose for some time. And while we could debate the decision on why they were purchased in the first place, this issue has become urgent. That's why the former defence minister listened to the people who use the aircraft, the people who fly in it, the soldiers who use it and the pilots, and that's why we decided to acquire the tried and tested Black Hawk.
The wheels were set in motion to acquire Black Hawks and negotiations started with the US. But on the same day the US government approved 40 new Black Hawks for the Australian Defence Force, the minister hinted that the decision was under review as part of the Defence Strategic Review. I was CASEVACed from Afghanistan in a Black Hawk. Many of my friends were airlifted out in a Black Hawk. It is tried and proven. So my questions to the minister are: Why has there been a delay in purchasing the Black Hawks since the US approval was provided? When will the decision be made? And is the decision under review as part of the DSR? I note that no decision is a decision.
Land 400 Phase 3 is a decision that should already have been made. Land 400 Phase 3 is to acquire 450 infantry fighting vehicles to replace the current M113 armoured personnel carriers, which date from the 1960s. I have ADF members in my electorate who are still operating these relics, which are from the middle of the last century. Tenders had been shortlisted. The decision was due to be made in September, which was two months ago, but there's been nothing except references to the Defence Strategic Review and ongoing processes. Only the other day we saw media reports that the DSR is hinting at IFVs are not to play an important role in our future capabilities.
I ask the minister: What is the future of 400 phase 3? What is the reason for the delay and has the delay created a capability gap? Is the delay because of the DSR, is it just awaiting a cabinet decision or is it just another example of Labor using the DSR as a disguise for cuts to Defence? No decision is a decision. I'm happy that the Minister for Defence Industry has graced us with his presence, albeit somewhat late. Since some of these pertain to your portfolio, I'd like the minister to explain what's happening with Land 400 Phase 3. I think the people of Australia need to know what's happening. We need a capability that can protect our people on operations, and throughout the country.
When we came to government there was a backlog of some 60-plus thousand claims in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The DVA secretary said that, under the previous government's system, approach and resourcing for the department, that backlog would never have been cleared. We're spending more than $233.9 million on employing 500 frontline staff in DVA to clear that backlog. We've removed the staffing cap so that we can transition people from labour hire into being public servants. We're developing a pathway to simplify the legislation that applies to veterans while improving the IT systems in the department to make things easier to understand and make claims faster to process.
The previous minister threatened to quit, but he never even followed through on that commitment. When we turn to the area of defence personnel, our people are the most important capability for the defence of Australia and our national interest. Given the strategic circumstances we now face, the recruitment and retention of personnel has never been more important. So it's disappointing that under the previous Liberal government defence recruitment targets were missed time and time again and defence was haemorrhaging personnel. When the shadow minister for defence says that he's concerned about recruitment numbers, I'd tend to agree: it's not an easy fix after a decade of inaction—inaction under the previous Liberal government.
But what are we doing about these issues that we have inherited? Well, we are implementing our response to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide interim report. As I mentioned, we're investing $233.9 million in engaging 500 additional staff for DVA. We're investing $9.5 million in developing our new legislative pathway, $87 million to modernise IT systems, $24.3 million to provide increased and improved demand modelling for DVA so we can best understand the demand that it will be confronting, and $15.5 million in responding and assisting the royal commission.
Our budget just delivered also implements some of our election commitments: $46.7 million for 10 new veterans and families hubs across the country, in the areas where we see the highest concentrations of personnel and veterans; $24 million to deliver a veterans employment program; $4.7 million for the development of the Operation Navigator smartphone app; $97.9 million for the $1,000-a-year increase for the totally and permanently incapacitated payment, supporting some 27,000 veterans; and $46.2 million to boost defence and veteran homeownership.
We're working to improve the lives of defence personnel and their families as well. We understand the need to take action immediately. That's why we're working with defence to introduce new initiatives that will make the lives of personnel and their families just that little bit better. We will improve and increase access to education opportunities by expanding the Defence Assisted Study Scheme and study bank program. We will ensure ADF families can maintain a healthy lifestyle by doubling the payment and expanding the ADF Family Health benefit. We will recognise those who work in our most remote locations by increasing the allocation of remote locality leave travel by an additional trip per year. We will adequately compensate ADF members when they conduct higher duties by revising the current higher duties allowance policy. We're making it easier to conduct official travel by providing greater ease of access to travel allowances, and we're enabling everyone to easily understand the value of working for our Defence Force by developing and communicating a clear ADF employee value proposition framework for everyone to understand. These are just some of the things that we're doing to address the critical shortages and failures that we've inherited after a decade of the previous Liberal government being in charge of defence and veterans affairs.
My question is to the Minister for Defence Personnel. Can the Minister for Defence Personnel confirm that on 25 August 2022, when speaking to several groups of Navy defence personnel at HMAS Waterhen, he said that they will not be able to buy a home in Sydney whilst they are on defence salaries? The Minister for Defence Personnel, I'm sure, will also remember that in his speech at the Defence Reserves Association 2022 National Conference he said:
We need … to inspire the workforce of the future, increase the number of people joining the ADF, and retain talent to ensure we can deliver Defence's and our nation's capability requirements.
Can the minister for defence personnel, the member for Burt, please explain how his comments on 25 August at HMAS Waterhen inspire defence personnel to remain in the Australian Defence Force? How can his comments attract Australians to join the Defence Force? Did the minister even bother telling these young sailors and Navy personnel about the First Home Super Saver Scheme that he voted against when in opposition, or the first home deposit scheme? Did he encourage them and inspire them like he wanted to, or did he just say to these young sailors, 'On a defence salary, you'll never be able to afford a home in Sydney'? These people were so concerned about it that they rang my office to let me know. I'd love to hear your response on that.
Mate, we won our seats. Don't get too cocky over there. Arrogance is not what people want to hear. These young sailors want to be encouraged, not told they can't buy a home in Sydney. Many will agree with me when I say that today we find ourselves in testing times with the prospects for global peace deteriorating. There is no denying the threats and challenges presented by our current strategic environment, which means Australia needs to continue investing in defence capability. We don't need to go back too far in history to see the conflict in the world. In fact, on 24 February 2022, we know the Russian Federation launched a fully-fledged war on Ukraine. Looking at today's world, where geopolitics are at play and our eyes are open to the very high possibility of increased tension and escalation leading to war, and as a shadow minister for defence industry, I believe a strong and capable defence industry is essential to deliver our modernised defence capabilities for our country's needs in the face of the potential challenges ahead of us.
The defence industry needs the Albanese government to take action on issues such as supply chain disruption, skills shortages and maintaining its competitiveness. In November, Prime Minister Albanese said, 'Where are our missile capabilities?'—meaning drones—and that, in general, we need more weaponry. We know that the opposition leader and former defence minister did a lot in this space. He was a very good defence minister, and he was working in this area to secure our industry. If you look back to when I came into parliament, with the shadow minister for defence, the former Labor government had cut the guts out of it, and that's really important. ADF personnel know that the guts were cut out of defence by the former Labor government. You guys have been in for six months. To come in and pretend that somehow you're a big champion in this space begs to differ. We hope you are because defence industry, the personnel sitting behind you and the people in the ADF need our bipartisan support.
Has the Minister for Defence Industry been briefed on sovereign onshore production, missile manufacturing in Australia, its supply chain capacity and its preparedness? More specifically, has the minister been briefed on the critical components and resources required for missile production capability within Australia? Has the minister been briefed on the options and capacity of offshore missile suppliers? If the worst were to happen, would we be able to have, with disruption, the industry that we need to supply the weapons the ADF would need?
I'm going to try something a little different. I'm going to try and throw a little bit of trust over to the opposition side and trust in their goodwill, their good conscience and their good faith that the words they speak about the importance of our defence and national security, the bipartisanship that is necessary, in one of the most critical periods that Australia is facing—and I think we all agree on that—the most volatile geostrategic circumstances that we've faced since World War II, that they're not going to play petty politics in this space, that they follow through on the words they use when they say, 'We'll back you in because it's about Australia's national interest.' But already I've heard the first skirting towards a bit of falsehood when I heard a previous speaker talk about cuts to the defence budget.
Let me just remind those in the opposition that defence funding will rise to over two per cent of GDP over the forward estimates. It will be the highest it has been in decades. That is a fact. So, rather than playing around with misinformation or disinformation and trying to score a few cheap political points in this space, why don't you trust that good conscience that you have? I know you have it, because you care about Australia. We all do. We care about the safety and security of our nation. We care about ensuring the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific. The bipartisanship that we talk about is very, very important. So the fact is that the Albanese Labor government is delivering on its election commitments across the defence portfolio.
The other thing I heard from the opposition speaker was that somehow the DSR, the Defence Strategic Review, was an excuse not to make decisions. Let me remind the opposition that the Defence Strategic Review is actually happening at warp speed. I've been in and around this space for 20-plus years; I have not seen a defence white paper or defence update completed in such a time. It's at breakneck speed. Sir Angus Houston and Stephen Smith have delivered the first part of it and will deliver the final report. It is fundamentally important to the huge decisions that this government has to make around the future of our defence capability because, frankly, it goes to shaping the world that we live in. When we're talking about major decisions, you can't make major decisions on strategy, force posture and force structure capability one at a time. They have to be done with a view of the big picture and the strategic necessity of what we face. That's what we're doing. That's why the Defence Strategic Review is being put in place. That's why the defence minister will be making those decisions going forward once he has received that report, as it should be.
There is a global strategic contest underway between the rise of authoritarianism and democracies like Australia. We know that. With our friends and allies, we are all working together and using all the tools of statecraft—diplomacy, defence, development assistance—in the region to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific because it's the neighbourhood we live in, and it's also the place where this battle is most drawn out. It's where that contest is happening. We are in the middle of the most important region of the 21st century. What we do as a government in the coming years—and, I hope, with the support of the opposition, in a bipartisan way—will effectively shape the future for our children and grandchildren in the coming decades. So maybe you can just resist the temptation to play short-term domestic politics within this defence space. Sure, we can disagree. Let's disagree on substantive issues if we must, and we can debate those. But let's not play politics with this. It's too important.
This government is committed to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the ongoing prosperity of Australia. We're a trading nation. The defence capabilities that we make decisions about will help us defend and protect the international rules based order, which is so important for our nation's future. AUKUS is part of that as well—the framework to deepen cooperation between our allies in developing leading-edge military capabilities and technology. That's critically important. It's central to shaping strategic circumstances in favour of our national interest. But it's more than just submarines, as important as that long-range naval capability is; it's about advanced capabilities, quantum computing, electronic warfare, artificial intelligence, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics. That's all happening right now. (Time expired)
Firstly, I'd like to recognise the service of those who are in the room here today and recognise the great career that they are undertaking. I'd also like to recognise the service in my family of both grandfathers and my father. I served in the reserves, and the only thing below me was a potato. But I always recognise the seven grand-uncles of mine who were English and who were all killed.
The first action of the government under Prime Minister Albanese was to dump the veterans' affairs minister from cabinet, which I think is a disgrace. It means that what is incredibly important is not heard. We have 210,000 veterans and 100,000 dependants, and we need the minister to be at the cabinet table.
In regard to Veterans' Affairs, the coalition committed to 14 new veterans hubs. In this election policy, the Labor Party promised to roll out only 10, but when we drill through it we find out there are only eight—six fewer than the coalition promised and two fewer than the Labor party themselves promised. They try to claim South-East Queensland and Tasmania as new veterans hubs, but Senate estimates proved that was false. Those two hubs were already committed to and funded by the coalition government. Senator Cadell enunciated this during Senate estimates when he said: 'So those weren't new; they're just continuations.' Ms Pope said: 'That's right.'
The budget failed to honour commitments for veterans hubs at Mackay, the New South Wales mid-north coast, the Sunshine Coast, Seymour, Wagga Wagga, Wide Bay and the Mornington Peninsula. If I pick out one, Wagga Wagga, where we have every section of the military represented in training, it seems absurd that we don't have a veterans hub there. In April I was with the member for Cowper, announcing a $5 million veterans hub. I met with Louise Freebairn, president of the veteran wellbeing centre, along with her husband, Robert, and Richard Kellaway. That promise was never fulfilled.
In regard to World War I graves, the budget continues to shine a light on Labor's worrying trend of diluting the importance of the memory of World War I servicemen. The politicisation of the War Memorial was revealed in Senate estimates. The Solicitor-General gave advice in 2013, based upon which the War Memorial said it was not the place to tell the story of European settlement. Senator Canavan sought confirmation of whether that advice had been updated. It had not. Senator Canavan stated:
That article states:
… the Memorial has found no substantial evidence that home-grown military units, whether state colonial forces or post-Federation Australian military units, ever fought against the Indigenous population of this country.
Is that statement still the position of the Australian War Memorial?
The reply from Mr Anderson was:
That's correct, Senator, with regard to military units, correct.
But we've also had a cut in the funding and what we are now doing is politicising the Australian War Memorial, and that is a disgrace.
We've also had a cut in the funding for unmarked graves. This has been cut from the $3.7 million we were promised down to $1.5 million. I have one example of this. It is of Private Sidney George Wortley, an Aboriginal person from my district. The locals found his grave. He died at the age of 64 at Maney's Creek, Walcha. Not only did they have him in the wrong grave; they had the wrong name. He was down there as Sidney Watling. These are the sorts of things that are important. We know that at the Rookwood Necropolis there are 1,756 graves that are unofficial or unmarked. At the Cornelian Bay cemetery—I know, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, that you yourself were at the ceremony, with the member for Lyons—there are 316 people who served this nation and deserve the dignity of a proper burial. How can we possibly say, 'Lest we forget!' when they don't even have a headstone? We can't even identify them. This is more important than the environmental warriors program or the environmental defenders program, which seems to have no problem getting funding under this government. Let's deal with the real warriors—the people who actually put their lives on the line for this nation.
We continue to work with the royal commission. We'll be making sure that we give our best endeavours to fulfil its promises. We are working, in many instances in a bipartisan way, to make sure that these things are fulfilled. We acknowledge the $1,000 increase in the TPI; we recommended the same ourselves. We also welcome the work that was done to eliminate the backlogs. But the reason we had backlogs under our government is that we actually made it more accessible for people to apply and, because we had more volume, we needed more resources.
In closing, as the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, I always like to acknowledge those who have served our nation. Lest we forget!
I'm going to start with a statement that I think both sides of politics will agree with: we face the greatest strategic uncertainty for this country since World War II. That was reflected in the 2020 Defence strategic update, commissioned and released by the previous government, which said that, for the first time since 1945, we can no longer rely on the 10-year warning horizon for a major regional conflict. That is something that was very sobering, and something that both sides agreed with. It is something that should have spurred the last government into action. But, unfortunately, they did nothing. They said, 'We've lost the 10-year warning horizon. We have the greatest strategic uncertainty since 1945. But we're not going to speed up the acquisition cycle; in fact, we're going to slow things down.' That was symptomatic of a government that was big on announcement and hopeless on delivery. They spent $10.4 billion less on equipment than they promised in the 2016 Defence white paper. They had six defence ministers in nine years. Goldfish lasted longer than defence ministers in the coalition government.
They provided no oversight of defence projects. For example, ministerial summits on projects of concern went from one every six months under Labor to six in nine years under the previous government. And what was the result of this? Those on the other side are very focused on delivering for the ADF—as they should be, and as we are—but what was the result of their incompetence? It was 28 major defence projects running, cumulatively, 97 years late. It was 18 major projects running over budget. It was frigates running four years late and 50 per cent over budget. It was battlefield airlift aircraft running 4½ years late; they can't fly into battlefields. The offshore patrol vessel was at least 12 months late. The evolved Cape class vessel was 12 months late. These are all capabilities the ADF need that those on the other side failed to deliver.
The Albanese Labor government is already taking action on these major issues. We've announced major reforms. We've done more in our first six months than that mob opposite did in 10 long years. We've announced six major reforms: establishing an independent project and portfolio management office; requiring monthly reports to me and the Deputy Prime Minister for projects of concern and projects of interest; establishing early warning criteria for projects in trouble; fostering a culture in Defence of raising attention to problem projects early; providing troubled projects with extra resources; and convening regular ministerial summits on projects of concern, which I'll be doing very shortly for the first one.
These six important reforms are a down payment on what you'll see in the Defence Strategic Review and the new defence industrial development strategy. They are important reforms that will improve defence procurement to respond to the deteriorating strategic environment, which we all agree on but on which those opposite did absolutely nothing.
Now I can respond to the questions on missiles asked by my counterparts over there. I absolutely agree, shadow minister for defence industry, that more needs to be done. We face strategic uncertainty. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated that we need to do much more. I'm focused on increasing the stocks of our current missiles, resolving some of the maintenance issues that prevent adequate and speedy maintenance, and establishing indigenous manufacturing capability in this country. They're really important tasks that I'm focused on.
The last government announced the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise two years ago but did nothing. They did nothing for two years. They hadn't even signed head agreements with the GWEO strategic partners. We're taking action. I visited Washington last month and I had very productive conversations with the Pentagon, the States Department of State, the Congress and the key defence primes over there. I'm confident that we can work together to deliver a result on missiles that will help our entire country.
Another speaker talked about Land 400 Phase 3. This is a live tender, so it would be inappropriate to go into details on it—
but I'll make this point to the member for Herbert. If it was so important to the last government, why did they not make a decision before the last election? Why did they not make a decision? They didn't make a decision, because they were all talk on defence. They were great on media releases but hopeless on follow-through.
Unlike the coalition, the Labor Party is focused on sober analysis backed up with evidence. That will be demonstrated through the Defence Strategic Review. That will be backed up by the defence industry development strategy. That will be backed up with a laser-like focus on delivering the capabilities the ADF need, on time and with ministerial support, rather than press releases like those opposite.
This is an important debate because we are discussing the sacred task of defending this country, which you well know, Deputy Speaker Wilkie, being a former member of the ADF, serving in the Australian Army, and a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
We come to this debate on this side of the House wanting only the best for Australia and for the men and women who bear arms in defending it. And we will work constructively with the government. I've said this multiple times. We will work constructively with the government. The time for hyperpartisanship is over because, as we know, the strategic circumstances we face are dire. Authoritarian powers are on the move. Russia and China, now with a supporting act from Iran, are seeking to revise and overturn the rules-based global order that we have benefited from for many years now.
I want to note the partisan tone this side has brought to this debate today, particularly starting with the member for Bruce, a shock trooper of the Labor left with very little expertise in defence matters who was sent here to lecture us about the past. What we've noted today is the abject lack of vision from those opposite. They have been going over the past and giving us a history lesson but shown very little vision for the future. They are well off topic if you ask me. If this is about past records, I want the House to note that the coalition government over the last nine years increased defence spending by 55 per cent in real terms after the low of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, which drove defence spending to the lowest since 1938.
Government members interjec ting—
History is for historians; we are people of action in this House. The question is: what we do now? The coalition knows there is a defence strategic review underway and it will report in March. We look forward to the results. As I said, the situation is dire for our country. The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia has potentially changed China's calculus for the reunification of China, potentially taking Taiwan by force. If you think I'm exaggerating, I point to the remarks of the US admiral Philip Davidson, who in his valedictory remarks to the US Senate Committee on Armed Services last year said China may well try to move on Taiwan in the next six years. This has been supported by a US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and also by the US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, in October. Just this week Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister said:
If we fail to navigate the next five years carefully, there is a grave risk that by the late 20s and the early 30s, we could well find ourselves on the cusp of armed conflict.
So my question today for this government is: what is the government strategy to create a deterrent hedge if we can't get key capability by 2027? This will be answered in the DSR, but I want to note that today. The Minister for Defence acknowledged in a speech last week the need for impactful projection, and I've got to say that that is one of the dullest expressions ever penned by a public servant in this country. Impactful projection—what does that actually mean? The real question is: what progress is being made to acquire missiles and strike capabilities that will meaningfully deter any adversary out past the archipelago to the north. We've been calling for the need for long-range strike capability for missiles and how we project lethal deterrents including B-21 bombers. The question I have today is: are B-21 bombers being considered by the government? I note what the Prime Minister said recently in an interview with Greg Sheridan in the Australian, where he indicated preparedness to spend what is necessary to restructure the ADF and acquire new assets, including missiles, drones and cyberwarfare capabilities. Just last week former Labor minister Kim Beazley, someone who is rising above the partisan politics of the day, said we must raise defence spending to a significant number, well above two per cent and hinting at three per cent, which I agree with. Does this government agree with Kim Beazley on that point? What are they going to do about it? The other question I have is: has the government commenced work on implementing the PM's stated intentions to increase the defence budget and do what is necessary to achieve defence outcomes?
I will close by finishing where I began and say we will work constructively with this government because I know what it's like to serve under a government that is adrift strategically, adrift economically and creates bad policy— (Time expired)
PFAS contamination on and around military bases is one of the biggest challenges in our country and across the world. In my electorate of Paterson, the RAAF defence base in Williamtown is no exception. In fact, it is most problematic, because of its proximity to the rural residential properties on its border, the coastline—with an incredibly high water table—and, indeed, some Ramsar wetlands nearby. Approximately 700 households in my electorate are affected by the management zone, declared by the New South Wales EPA, that encircles those properties. It was first publicised in 2015, and those affected have had their lives placed on hold whilst awaiting a solution to this environmental disaster. For nearly seven years I have stood beside these people in my electorate, who still to this point know little of how their health and the health of their families is impacted. They have had their main asset, the value of their homes and properties, slashed. Farmers have had their livelihoods suspended. They have had little or no way to escape the restrictions that were placed on them through absolutely no fault of their own. After seven years and millions of dollars spent by the defence department and the former government, these families are no closer to a solution.
It must be noted that the defence department takes orders from the government of the day and, whilst the safety and security of our nation is in the hands of the fabulous Australian Defence Force, the local safety of our own people must start with taking responsibility. I am so proud to tell you that winning government has been a game changer for me, because the new government have finally stood up and taken some responsibility for the unmitigated mess that was there before they came to government. I am able to actually work on a solution for these families, and I haven't wasted a minute in starting this process. I want to say that my colleague the Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, in his capacity as shadow minister for defence, has been with me on this journey for the past seven years, demonstrating a willingness to listen and work with my community. In our first parliamentary sitting in government, he convened a meeting with me, along with the assistant minister for defence Matt Thistlethwaite and the attorney-general Mark Dreyfus KC MP. It was clear that I had the support of my colleagues to begin this process. It was also clear that the previous government had sat on their hands.
Assistant Minister Thistlethwaite has already been to my electorate twice and met with my community, and the first thing he did was say sorry. That went a long way for those people who had spent seven years begging and pleading to try and get some meetings with people of influence within their own government. He took responsibility for the contamination and vowed to work with the defence department to help these people. It was very clear that all three levels of our government are needed to fix this mess, and we are stepping up and taking responsibility for our fair share of it. Then just last week he called a meeting with community leaders, stakeholders and experts, for those levels of government to establish what we already know, and we do know a lot. We also needed to establish what we need and how we make these things happen for our community and, quite frankly, for our defence community as well.
I'm pleased that Defence departmental staff were eager to share the work to date and participate in the conversation moving forward. I'm grateful to the local Port Stephens Council experts that could explain and offer solutions and sound counsel. I appreciate the New South Wales Government defence and aerospace staff who also participated, and I look forward to working with the EPA in New South Wales and the state government in the near future. Most of all, I'm so grateful to my community. I am grateful to people like Lindsay Clout who have hung in there and worked tirelessly to find a solution. To them I say: we will fix this as a government that stands up and takes responsibility. There is good work being done by Defence, and there's a raft of research being done by universities. We will fix this mess as a responsible Albanese government.
I also want to acknowledge the members of the ADF that joined us this week for the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program and thank them for their service to our nation. There's been a lot of shouting across the chamber in this important debate this morning, and I think that members of the ADF and the Australian public expect better from us when it comes to discussions about defence in the parliament. We should be acting in a bipartisan way when it comes to the defence of our nation. That's why Labor, when in opposition, supported the AUKUS arrangement that was reached by the former government, and that's why we're getting on with the job of delivering a nuclear submarine capability for Australia. Importantly, the Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce will report in March about which technology we'll go with, but also about the human investments that we need to make to develop a nuclear propelled submarine industry in Australia.
The unprecedented and difficult strategic circumstances that our nation faces at the moment have been commented on this morning. Having worked in this portfolio for the last six months, I've been struck by the pace of technological change, particularly when it comes to weapons, deterrence and cybercapacity. If Australia is going to maintain its capability edge, we need to be making the necessary investments and ensuring that we have the correct posture to deal with the challenges ahead. That's the focus behind the Defence Strategic Review. This will ensure that we're advised by the leads, in March next year, about the posture that Australia should adopt and, importantly, the capabilities that we should be investing in and the human capital that we will need to deliver those capabilities into the future.
We all know that we need to grow the Australian Defence Force. The previous government estimated that we would need 18½ thousand new ADF members by 2040. We've adopted that approach in a bipartisan manner, and we're getting on with the details of providing support to recruit more members to the ADF and to retain them. That is what the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Amendment Bill, which I put into the parliament last week and is currently going through the Senate today and tomorrow, is all about delivering. It has $46.2 million of improved access to support for ADF members and veterans to buy a home. We're reducing the qualifying period and removing the post-service cap for veterans to ensure that more ADF personnel and veterans can get support to buy their home in a difficult labour market.
We also know that the ADF has been involved in disaster relief in recent years, and that is increasing. I want to thank the ADF for the important role they've played in ensuring that communities can recover from disasters. But that's not the role that they signed up for, and we need to be conscious of the fact that, with climate change getting worse, we need to support disaster relief in Australia. That's what the government is doing by supporting Disaster Relief Australia with $38.1 million over the next three years to expand their veteran-led approach to supporting disaster relief in communities affected by natural disasters. The shadow minister for veterans' affairs mentioned the role of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I say to the shadow minister that we have the Deputy Prime Minister in cabinet looking after veterans. As well, we now have four ministers—a record number—working in the defence and veterans' affairs space.
The key issue for veterans has been the backlog with processing claims through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has recognised that this is a key issue that's led to a deterioration in the mental health conditions of many veterans. The government is getting on with reducing that backlog by removing the staffing cap that was put in place by the previous government, which was a handbrake on processing those important veterans' applications. That cap has been removed. We're investing in 500 additional staff, and the anecdotal evidence that I'm getting when visiting the country is that that backlog is now starting to come down. That is important support for veterans.
In regard to veterans' hubs, we promised to invest in 10. Two will be announced and opened next week. The minister is going to open two of them next week, and eight of them are under construction or in the planning phase. We are delivering on the election commitment that we made. In terms of memorials, there is the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Sydney. Again, $186,000 per year for the next four years is the Labor government's commitment to supporting commemoration of those who served our nation.
Before we continue, if I could just clarify two points which have been brought to my attention. We didn't alternate, because no member of the opposition sought the call. The other point is that the time allotted in these matters is a guide only. It's not a hard and fast rule like in standing orders.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Resources exports remain the backbone of the Australian economy, with export earnings expected to reach $450 billion in 2022-23. The resources sector employs 280,000 workers nationally and generated $43 billion in taxation and royalty revenue in the last financial year. All this revenue and this taxation helps to fund our essential services across the nation in metropolitan areas but also, very importantly, in the regional communities in which this sector principally operates.
Since its election on 21 May, the Albanese government has been working to acknowledge the important role resources will play in the transition to net zero emissions both here in Australia and around the world. We've been working to address energy security and pricing, to maintain our reputation as a reliable and stable supplier to our trading partners and to enhance our relationship with key investors.
This year we have seen large increases in international gas prices. The government has taken action to protect Australia's gas supply while maintaining our trusted trade and investment relationships with these key strategic partners. At the core of this is a package of reforms to modernise energy market regulation with the states and territories, to increase the monitoring and oversight of gas markets and to improve the functioning of the Australian domestic gas security mechanism, including moving to a more-flexible quarterly based consideration. I delivered a new heads of agreement five weeks ago with the three east coast LNG suppliers in late September. While these facilities account for only three per cent of the east coast's gas supply into the market, their commitment to supply 157 petajoules across 2023 is important to maintaining supply and, indeed, ensuring oversupply.
As we decarbonise, Australia will continue to need gas and coal in the transition to firm renewable energy generation, and iron ore and bauxite will continue to be vital inputs for steel and aluminium production. I acknowledge the member for Paterson and the member for Hunter, who is going to speak later on this matter, who represent the great coalmining communities of New South Wales. I also acknowledge the former minister for resources, the member for Hinkler, who has always been a key advocate for these communities.
This government is committed to lowering emissions, reaching net zero by 2050. Work and consultation are ongoing in regard to the very important safeguard mechanisms which will work on limiting those submissions for the large emitters of carbon dioxide in this country. Australia's critical minerals are essential for a clean energy future. Our silicon is used in solar panels. Our lithium, cobalt, graphite and vanadium are used in batteries. Our rare earths are used to create electric vehicles and wind turbines. The world will need more mining, not less, on the critical path to net zero. Without the resources sector of Australia, Australia will not reach net zero and the world will not reach a decarbonised economy.
The October 2022-23 budget contains an additional $50.1 million over three years to the Critical Minerals Development Program for competitive grants to support early- and mid-stage critical minerals projects. This builds on the $49.7 million committed last month to six key projects across Australia. The budget also contains $50.5 million to establish the Australian critical minerals research and development hub and $10 million to fund research, development and demonstration projects for commercial methane abatement in the resources sector. This government will also refresh Australia's Critical Minerals Strategy to set a clear vision for the sector and complements other government initiatives, including the National Battery Strategy and the Electric Vehicle Strategy.
The previous government issued two versions of a critical minerals strategy and did not consult anyone on either occasion. This strategy failed to make the very important link between the role of critical minerals and the path to net zero emissions and decarbonisation. It is a staggering omission and can only be explained by the deep-seated denial of the then coalition government of the need to act on climate change. Unlike the current opposition, we will consult industry experts and communities to ensure they are provided with an opportunity to have their say on the Critical Minerals Strategy of this nation.
We will also review Australia's critical minerals list, which will be considered to ensure it reflects evolving technological, economic and global conditions. International investment will be required to develop these resources, to capture more of the downstream processing supply chain and develop battery manufacturing in Australia. That's why I've recommitted $5.8 million to the India-Australia critical minerals investment partnership and recently signed a critical minerals partnership between Japan and Australia, which was announced in Perth when the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, and the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, both visited the BHP Nickel West refinery in my electorate in Kwinana.
There is a great economic opportunity for critical minerals in this country. It will be a national mission to make it a success for future generations of Australians and indeed the whole world.
I have many questions for the Minister for Industry and Science, who is not joining us today. I'm disappointed; as a minister in cabinet I never missed an opportunity to sit on the other side of this Chamber and answer detailed questions from the then opposition about our appropriations. I'm pleased the Minister for Resources has joined us, but I also understand that she doesn't speak to the minister for industry, so maybe they can't even be in this Chamber together.
This budget was a missed opportunity for the government. It was a missed opportunity to support industry and business to tackle spiralling costs, workforce shortages and the supply chain crisis. Instead, the government chose to forge ahead with radical industrial relations legislation, facilitating a spike in industrial disputes and paving a path for thousands of job losses. Mark my words: this will have a devastating effect on industry. Has the minister for industry provided any information through the budgetary process about extra support that industry will need to deal with a heightened risk of industrial disputes and potential job losses that this industrial relations bill will incur? I ask because this legislation will make a bad situation worse.
The industrial relations bill will cause mayhem for industry and business when combined with the ideological scrapping of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the funding cut they handed the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. With union paymasters running rampant across the country and no proven oversight and dispute resolution in sight after these important bodies are abolished, has the minister for industry been consulted by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations about this legislation and how the budget might provide better security to industry in light of these changes?
While manufacturers across the country struggle with rising power prices, Labor's focus is making it more difficult for industry to employ and keep workers and grow their businesses. In that context, did the minister for industry consult any stakeholders prior to the budget in relation to power price spikes with a view to establishing budgetary support for industries who are dealing with these increasing prices? Frankly, I see absolutely nothing in the budget to genuinely assist industry with these inflationary pressures.
This budget also took active steps to spitefully wipe out key features of the coalition's industry policy. We provided $2.5 billion to create the Modern Manufacturing Strategy. This support sought to bolster our sovereign manufacturing capability and empowered over 200 projects across Australia. Despite promising over and again that their National Reconstruction Fund would reinvigorate manufacturing in Australia, we saw next to nothing in the budget to roll out this program. Let me make that clear: Labor has chosen to spitefully redirect the Modern Manufacturing Initiative's funds without having rolled out their own National Reconstruction Fund.
Additionally we saw the minister conduct politically motivated reviews into already committed funds issued under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative—funds which had already undergone independent assessments by subject matter experts and the department. The government has displayed a callous lack of understanding for how these delays may have damaged these projects. I'd like to get this on record: can the minister confirm that round 3 of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative has indeed been cut? If so, can he please provide a list of projects that had already engaged with the department about round 3?
One of the key pillars of this new manufacturing strategy was our strategic decision to bolster Australia's capabilities in the space sector. We support funding to locally design, develop, manufacture and deploy specialised space products, equipment, systems and services for export to international markets and to support national and international space missions. The government chose to effectively wipe out the coalition's efforts to develop our space industry by removing it as a priority area. The space industry and the Australian public are yet to understand the basis on which this shift in focus was made. The Labor Party was gutless in explaining why these grants weren't paid out, but responses to questions in Senate estimates paint a clear picture. The minister must confirm why and on what basis space is no longer listed as a priority area.
The minister must also identify the reasons why the food and beverage industry is no longer a standalone priority in our national manufacturing strategy at a time when in the last nine months we've seen a 27 per cent increase in the cost of operations across the food supply chain. Our growers, our food processing plants, cold storage, logistics network—no-one in the food supply chain is immune to Labor's economic mismanagement.
The government must address the critical issues affecting our manufacturers, not tinker with a proven model. With power prices spiking and industry hurting, now is the time to act.
I'm pleased to be speaking on this consideration in detail and want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges the Albanese Labor government has inherited and some of the swift actions we're taking to ensure long-term solutions.
As many would appreciate, we have a gas crisis. Gas prices continue to be a challenge for our global economy, with pressure we are seeing as a result of foreign conflict. As Minister King has said, our government has taken action to protect Australia's gas supply while maintaining our trusted trade and investment relationships with many key strategic partners. I want to commend the minister—and I'm pleased she's here today—and, indeed, the cabinet on developing and delivering a package of reforms that will modernise energy market regulation with states and territories. Our package will increase regulatory oversight, ensure more monitoring of gas markets and improve the functioning of the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism.
I want to take a moment to speak about a critical gas project in my home town of Kurri Kurri in my electorate. The Hunter Power Project, locally known as the Kurri Kurri gas plant, is being delivered by Snowy Hydro. This power station will comprise two heavy-duty open cycle turbines, which are the latest and most efficient turbines the world's best manufacturers can offer for this site. Last month I was delighted to hear that the turbines have arrived in the terrific Port of Newcastle and will be loaded off the ships and transported to the sites in the next few days.
I've made the case, as have many in this place of late, that gas is a critical step in our energy transition as we head towards net zero. We all understand the importance of transitioning and securing our grid. However, it must be done sensibly and practically. In my home state of New South Wales we still have a heavy reliance on traditional energies, and this is a fact we can't ignore. Just yesterday, 60 per cent of New South Wales energy was produced by coal-fired power stations. I commend Minister Bowen for his support for the Kurri Kurri gas project and note that, under Labor's plan, the open cycle gas turbines will operate on natural gas but will have hydrogen capacity into the future.
Our government has significant opportunities in this term of parliament and we intend to work with industry in continuing to address the challenges of energy supply and successful transition. As a government, we will effectively shape the future of Australia's energy generation because we get it. We understand you can achieve net zero while still supporting traditional energy industries. We are able to do this. The former government was incapable of getting their head around the fact that this is possible. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary. We cannot trash our traditional energy industries, like coal and gas. We must embrace them and we can also embrace net zero, and we are doing just that. We can walk and chew gum, unlike those opposite.
We also have an opportunity in bioenergy, which is a form of renewable energy generated from the conversion of biomass into heat, electricity, biogas and liquid fuels. By the start of the next decade Australia's bioenergy sector could contribute around $10 billion in extra GDP per annum and more than 26,000 jobs. On top of this, it'll reduce emissions by around 10 per cent, divert an extra six per cent of waste from landfill and enhance fuel security for our country—that is also a winner. I'm delighted to be working with a Labor government that is exploring innovation and exciting opportunities to secure our country's energy future, including in regional areas like my own and like the member for Hunter's. I know that industry welcomes the work being done by our government.
I would like to touch on a quick point. The former speaker mentioned that our government is not doing anything in food manufacturing. I can say that we've established a $17.2 million pilot food manufacturing innovation hub on the Central Coast just south of my electorate, which will complement agribusiness across the Hunter. The hub will be a regional driver for employment and economic growth, and it will also be one of those things that drives food manufacturing innovation. This project will increase employment opportunities in food processing and manufacturing, and it will also support the local economy by increasing opportunities for education, skills, research and development and tourism. This government will deliver on energy and on modern manufacturing innovation.
I'm pleased to rise to raise some issues in relation to space policy, and I note at the outset my regret that the Minister for Industry and Science is not with us. That's not really consistent with the government's stated commitment to accountability and transparency. He is, after all, the minister for industry. If he couldn't be here, he could, at the very least, have sent an avatar or a robot to represent him. He hasn't even bothered to do that. It's very—oh, he's here! That is very good news. I'm very pleased he's here. It could be an avatar or it could be the real minister.
The coalition has a proud record of achievement on space policy. We established the Australian Space Agency to kick off the industry. We launched the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-28, outlining a plan to transform and grow the space sector over 10 years. Australia is in a global race to capture space opportunities, yet Labor seems to be dithering on this matter, which is putting at risk space industry momentum built under the previous coalition government, and that could mean that jobs and opportunities, as well as scientific benefits, will be lost to our international competitors. The coalition is particularly concerned for South Australian industry and jobs, given South Australia's and Adelaide's status as our space headquarters. South Australia hosts the Australian Space Agency and has attracted significant investment under the coalition government to develop our space capability and create jobs. When I visited Lot 14 recently—an initiative of the former Marshall Liberal government in South Australia—I was interested to meet with businesses operating in the space sector, but there is some uncertainty as to whether the present government is committed to space policy.
To that end, I would like to ask the minister a number of questions: What is happening with the moon to Mars grant, given that NASA has promised to send an Australian rover to the moon? According to the Australian Space Agency, these grants were assessed prior to the election, and are awaiting review by the minister, so when does the minister expect to be able to sign off on these grants? In the period between the then Morrison government announcing the funding from the National Space Mission for Earth Observation program in March 2022, and the election being held in May 2022, what actions were taken by the department or by the agency to ready itself for this program?
At the March 2022 budget, brought down by the previous Morrison government, we committed $1.16 billion through to 2038-39 and $38.5 million per annum ongoing for the first phase of this program. My questions to the minister are: What is happening in relation to this funding? Does Labor stand by it? Will it be delivered? When does the minister expect the space strategic update to be delivered to government? What consultation with the domestic space industry has occurred as part of the update? When does the minister believe the update will be available publicly? How is consultation with the space industry is going? How much engagement has there been with stakeholders? I'd also like to ask the minister: why is it that there was no representative of the space industry present at the so-called Jobs and Skills Summit, despite the sector employing more than 10,000 workers and having significant potential to employ more?
I would also like to ask the minister some questions about the Albanese government's $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund. We are told that it will take two years before even the design of this fund is released. I note that Professor Shine from the Australian Academy of Science said:
… this budget falls short of the vision needed to put Australia on a strong footing in an uncertain future.
In relation to the National Reconstruction Fund, how is the National Reconstruction Fund proceeding? At a conference last week, I'm advised, he stated that the government hoped to have the legislation ready before the end of the parliamentary sittings this year. So I seek a progress update. Can we expect to see the legislation in relation to the National Reconstruction Fund introduced in the parliament before the end of the year? Are there any further details as to how the funding is going to be allocated? What will be the relationship between fundamental scientific research and commercialisation activities? And how will the National Reconstruction Fund support activities in science in Australia?
Manufacturing is one of the pillars that have made this country what it is. Australia has a proud record of building things and building things well and building things to last. But, unfortunately, in this place, there are two types of people: those who support manufacturing and want to help it thrive and those who are responsible for major parts of the manufacturing industry shutting up shop and being shipped overseas, like the car industry. We once had the ability to make world-class products in Australia. It saddens me to know that this is, unfortunately, not so much the case anymore. That is why this government is committed to driving the transformation of the Australian industry and reviving this sector.
We have skilled workers in this country. We will have even more when this government brings TAFE back to the glory days it once had. We need to create high-value jobs across the economy and help keep skilled Australians onshore. This is a fast-moving world, and we as a country will be left behind if we don't make manufacturing one of our strong points again. This government doesn't leave anyone behind. We want to build a stronger and more resilient future. This cannot be done without delivering secure, well-paid jobs and without skilling up for the technologies of the future. Unlike those opposite who like to play dress-ups, we're taking action to deliver on our commitments to this sector.
We have committed $111.3 million through targeted grants to stimulate regional manufacturing in electorates like my own in the Hunter. I know that there are many in my electorate who have the best hands-on skills in the world. They just need an opportunity to apply these skills. I doubt those opposite can relate to this, because they probably couldn't even put together a barbecue from Bunnings.
Close to my home in the Hunter, this government is committing $17.2 million to establish a pilot food manufacturing innovation hub on the Central Coast of New South Wales. This investment will encourage employment and economic growth by supporting the food product manufacturing sector in the region. I have no doubt at all that we will feel the benefits of this in the Hunter as well. Not only will this create jobs; it will also encourage education, skills, research, development and tourism. We are a diverse country, and this only brings benefits. This diversity gives us even more chances to thrive in manufacturing and, more broadly, STEM as a whole. But in order to reap the rewards of diversity in this sector, this country needs a government that wants to see Australians from all walks of life engage in the sector.
This government is making the most of diversity in this country and has invested $5.8 million in the October budget to support a more diverse STEM workforce. Australians from all walks of life will benefit. By widening our talent pipeline, we will only increase our share in the global economy and help address the skills shortages we are currently facing.
Marketing is an important part of who I am. Before coming into this place I managed workshops that manufactured equipment for the agriculture and mining sectors. In my time managing this business I grew the business from just a dozen employees to over 70 in four years. Now I'm excited to be part of a government who is going to grow manufacturing Australia-wide and create skilled jobs for Australians in electorates such as mine in the Hunter.
I wish this passion and focus was shared in this place. But, while those opposite like to throw on a hi-vis and look like a manufacturing worker just for a photo op, the only things they really know how to manufacture are skewed marketing slogans and their own flawed visions of reality. The fact is that we are the only party who cares about manufacturing in Australia. Not only do we care about manufacturing, we care about the workers as well. We care about the workers. That's what we do. That's what the Labor party does, and that's the only party that will do this.
I am pleased we have the two ministers from the portfolios here. Perhaps they could exchange numbers and not have to have that discussion on the front page of 'The Oz' about how they'll manage gas and the resources sector.
Say it isn't so, because what we have from the Labor party is a budget which actually cuts support for the resources sector. These are just facts; that's what's in the budget. We have seen some extraordinary interventions. The idea that the ambassador for Japan has to buy into royalties in Queensland—and what is happening in the resources sector—is bad for this nation's reputation, it is bad for our national energy security and it is incredibly bad in terms of sovereign risk.
The Minister for Resources—I'm pleased she's here, because the Minister for Resources is having a crack. I have to identify that she is absolutely having a go, but she is hamstrung by the Greens and she is hamstrung by the left of the Labor party because they said at the election they would support the resources sector but that is not what has been indicated in the budget, it is not what has been indicated in public and it is not what has been indicated in the media. We only have to look at what's been cut from the budget: $100 million from the critical minerals area, which we put forward as part of the coalition government. It's an area of growth and one which is incredibly challenging because there is a monopoly producer in China. When there are monopoly producers they control the market. That means you need to be able to provide support to ensure that you can break that monopoly producer and have different lines of supply. This is what actually matters. The Minister for Resources outlined what is on the line: $43 billion in taxes into governments across Australia to provide services for the Australian people; 1.2 million workers, directly and indirectly; $450 billion into Australia's GDP. This is an incredible amount of money that helps to provide services Australians rely on—hospitals, roads and schools. Nothing matters more in any sector of business than confidence, and confidence in this sector is at a low because we continue to see arguments amongst ministers in the media. It is not that hard: pick up the phone and have a chat.
What else have we seen? Once again, we're back to facts. We saw 18 approvals withdrawn. Eighteen resource projects which were going ahead are now being reassessed. If we look at where those are, they are in places like the Bowen Basin, Saraji, Caval Ridge, Ensham's mine life extension near Emerald, China Stone, Mount Ramsay, Stanmore Coal, Valeria, Waratah, Whitehaven, Boggabri. The list goes on. These are billions of dollars worth of projects, billions of dollars worth of sovereign risk and tens of thousands of jobs. I don't think the Labor party understands how hard it is to get a project up in this country, to actually get finance and then get it finalised and delivered. You only have to look at what happened with Adani. It took almost 10 years, and what have they done? They have put billions of dollars into the Queensland economy.
An honourable member interjecting—
We keep hearing about coal. The coal sector, according to the Resources and energy quarterly, will produce $122 billion worth of GDP—thermal and metallurgical. That's more than iron ore. The coal sector deserves your support. And what have we seen? We have seen them remove the approvals for 18 projects. That is not confidence for the sector. Every single hardworking individual in the resources sector who is out there in their hi-vis, in their helmets and in their steel-cap boots deserves support from those opposite, and we are not seeing it.
I'll come back to the facts, because these are facts. The fact is that money was cut from the budget for strategic basin plans for the development of gas. We can't have a media argument from the Labor Party that says: 'We need more gas, but we're actually going to take away money that would produce more gas and open more basins.' Those ideas are diametrically opposed. That will just not work. I'll also be very interested to see, when there are exporters in Gladstone, Darwin and the Pilbara, how that gas will get to Victoria at the same price as gas that you can get now from the Bass Strait. You need the premiers online. You need Victoria, in particular, to produce their own gas because, without that, Victorian manufacturers may as well move. They should move to other parts of the country where the gas is readily available, is cheap and is there.
I will continue on with those questions. How is it that you'll get more gas in Australia when you cut support? How is it that you'll get more projects when you've withdrawn 18 approvals? How is it you'll develop our Australian economy further when we have a budget like Labor's?
As an engineer who has worked on the mines—and I am standing next to my colleague and good friend who's a fitter and turner who has also worked on the mines, and I have my good friends the Minister for Resources and the Minister for Industry and Science—I could not be more proud of Labor's budget and of what we've delivered for industry and resources. Labor recognises Australia has two incredible and powerful resources that will unlock the full potential of the resource, manufacturing and research sectors for long-term success. They are our talented workforce and rare-earth minerals. I wish to thank Ministers Husic and King for the work that they've done to put this budget together and acknowledge these two facts.
Australia is home to some of the best universities and to amazing research, development and capability. As Minister Husic knows, in my electorate we have a battery pilot plant that's upskilling the next generation of engineers. Engineers such as these are at the forefront of the next big tech breakthrough. But, as a woman who has worked in STEM for the last 15 years, I can tell you we aren't using our full talent pool. Women are less likely to head into STEM careers, and they're also less likely to stay in STEM careers. This is simply not good enough. There is a handbrake on innovation in our country. I welcome the $5.8 million in the October budget to increase diversity in the STEM workforce. I note that a review on how we bring more women into STEM and retain them will be a component of that funding, and I welcome that conversation.
The STEM pipeline starts at a very young age. Getting girls engaged with STEM through play builds confidence and connections to this subject. For me, I grew up with my dad, getting on the tools, watching him change tyres, change the oil et cetera, and I built my own confidence. I'm uberconscious of making sure that my daughter has access to blocks and cars to create those building blocks to love STEM.
Retention is equally important. Labor's respect at work legislation will play a big role in improving male dominated workplaces, and I have experienced some of that stuff in some sites. Currently, only 16 per cent of the STEM workforce is female. We need to increase this. The more women we have, the more minds we have to think about wicked problems, including climate change, and part of this climate solution will be critical minerals.
The Labor government knows that the future is electric. Electric cars, electric bikes and electric scooters are skyrocketing in demand. In fact, the Parliamentary Friends of Cycling group was trialling e-bikes this morning. Both state and federal governments are also talking about dispatchable renewable energy through batteries. In Australia, we have raw materials and, at this moment, we have the opportunity to increase our role in the value chain and actually process these materials to create batteries. We, indeed, are taking steps forward to build our capacity to create batteries here. We have the materials to make solar panels as well. As the nation that has the largest share of rooftop solar anywhere in the world, it makes sense that our silicon, graphite and cobalt producers are actually part of a national strategy.
Labor's Critical Minerals Strategy is a refresh on the two failed versions of the previous government. It will consult with industry experts and communities and ensure that they are provided an opportunity to have their say. Experts should lead the conversation on developing our critical minerals strategy, decarbonising our economy and using the know-how and can-do attitude of Australian miners, manufacturers, researchers and workers.
Addressing climate change while having a vision for the future of our economy is Labor's plan. This is exactly what this budget delivers. The October 2022 budget contains almost $1 million in tailored grants to support the development of critical minerals and $50 million to establish the Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub. This isn't just a press release or an announcement. This is tangible progress.
When I knock on doors in my community, this is what people are saying they want. They want action on climate change, and they also want a plan to create high-paying, good, secure jobs for them, their families and their children. I'm proud to be part of a government that has produced a responsible and targeted budget and that cares about industry and resources.
I hate to point out to the previous speaker that the opposition now has been in government for 4½ months, so if anyone's entitled to the credit for the glass on the roofs it should be the Liberal Party. I, of course, take the opposite position: they should be condemned for putting the glass on the roofs. There is no-one in this place who knows more about it than I do because I put in the first standalone system in Australia, won the national science prize for that year and also went into detail of producing high-tech silicon here in Australia.
I can tell you that, if you can think you can produce that glass on your roof without producing CO2, you believe in the tooth fairy. To process silicon—and that's even if it's in sand, whereas most of it's in rock form—is enormously costly in terms of CO2. Guess what you smelt silicon with? You smelt it with coal. You burn coal. There's no other way of producing glass than to burn coal. That's a little bit of a lesson there. And who gets the blame? History will decide that.
You are driving us into intermittent power. You are taking away reliable power. I don't know about other people, but I priced a little generator, some batteries and an inverter, because we have already had outages twice in Queensland because Callide B is closing down. They're not going to do any repairs or maintenance on it, and it's constantly dropping out. Five power stations are closing in Australia, taking one-seventh of our base-load power away and replacing it with intermittent power.
That's not the worst of it. I find myself going along to greenie meetings. The bloke almost died of shock when I turned up at a greenie meeting! They are anti windmills, anti windfarms and anti solar because, to quote the professor who gave the address to over 200 of us, twice, in Cairns: 'What is happening here? Stand back and have a look at what is happening here. What is happening here is our nature wonderland is being replaced with an industrial wasteland.' That is exactly what is occurring.
Of all the people in this House, the one that seems to know most about it is Minister Plibersek. I said that the CO2 goes into ponds to grow algae. CO2 is a product. It's not an emission; it's not a by-product. It's a product. We want to produce as much CO2 as we can possibly humanly produce, and a coal-fired power station is the best way of doing that because that CO2 is the feed for algae. The minister actually knew the name of the algae—which is much more than I knew—you use to produce diesel. It's a different type of algae to produce feedstock for chooks, pigs, cattle, fish farms, whatever. That's the way of the future. I went to Israel, because Mike Kelly, the senior minister in the Rudd government, told me I had to go to Israel. They are making so much money out of the CO2. They're putting into hothouses and they're putting it into ponds to grow algae, and that is where we want to go in Australia.
I just don't understand how people don't understand this. I ask people, 'How often do you clean your windscreen?' and they said, 'Oh, once a week, twice a week.' How often do you clean your solar panels! It's the same thing. You've got to clean the solar panels—our advice was—every nine days. I put the first standalone system in; our advice was that we had to clean them every nine days. No one in Australia cleans their solar panels. Just like your windscreen, if you can't see through it, the sunlight can't get through it. That's apart from any other consideration of putting holes in your roof—you never, ever do that—and putting stuff up there that has to be replaced every 20 years. Jeez Louise, I just don't know where you're going with this.
For relegating the economy of Australia to intermittent power instead of base-load power, truly, future generations will curse you. As a published historian, I'm entitled to say that. I just want to say, on the good things in the budget, the $150 million— (Time expired)
As much as I could listen to the member for Kennedy all day—and you know that I would, my friend—unfortunately, I need to wrap things up in terms of the industry portfolio. We do have a very energetic agenda in our space on industry. To be honest, coming in as a new government, it's driven by a simple proposition: 'Let's get moving.' There are a lot of things that we think, post those first lockdowns and post the initial waves of the pandemic, put enormous pressure on industry, plus what's happening in the world and in our trading systems. We're thinking about different ways of getting things done onshore so that we are able to deal with supply chain vulnerabilities and the critical things we need are there at the times that we need them. We can also play a part in the global value chain and global supply chains as well. It gives us a lot of opportunity to build up industry capability in this country.
The reason we do it, in many respects, is to provide long-term secure jobs. In manufacturing, if you look at the types of jobs that are generated, 80 per cent of them are full-time, well-paying jobs. With the types of things that we want to do—things like the National Reconstruction Fund, the Buy Australian Plan and the reforms to government procurement—we want to be able to build that capacity, as I said, and put it to work across different areas. The thing that we deal with most in this space is that when you talk about manufacturing people have a view in their minds that it's old school—smokestacks, big gears and lines of people working away. But manufacturing has evolved. As a capability across different areas, it has evolved.
We're looking at delivering higher value-add in resources and agriculture, both being big pillars of our economy longer term, but we also look at medical science; we look at transport; we look at what's happening with respect to energy—low emissions technology, renewable technology, some of which was touched on by some of the speakers here today—and the defence industry. We're looking at emerging capabilities and critical technologies as well. All that manufacturing capability across those areas offers the men and women of this country jobs that will be secure and long term and will contribute something not just to the economy but to the nation's wellbeing.
Within this budget, we put a down payment on the National Reconstruction Fund, and we'll be releasing further details of that shortly. In terms of the Buy Australian Plan and reforms to government procurement, we're looking to see how we open up government contracts to business here. We also made targeted investments in regional manufacturing through $111.3 million to stimulate and support regional manufacturing capabilities. With the member for Blair, who is here today, I visited some of that work in the medical space in his—
Oh, it's the member for Spence now. He's transformed—we've developed that manufacturing capability as well! We are looking in different parts of the country at supporting that. If I may, Deputy Speaker Ananda-Rajah, reflect on people who will lift manufacturing capability in renewables, I recall the group that are involved in wave energy generation, which you set up, and I was very interested to meet with them. It's not just in terms of alternative forms of energy generation but also all the stuff that goes in it from cement to steel, from fabrication and manufacturing to assembly. All that work will not only help us in the longer term to move towards net zero but it also provides sustainable work in the longer term.
In the remaining time I have—because I know my colleagues here are itching to speak on their portfolio areas and all the good things our government's doing in that space—I want to address one thing. The government treats this process seriously. When we were in opposition, we sat there as shadow ministers and we questioned ministers and we stayed to actually hear the answers. It appears the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow industry minister, and the shadow minister for science want to be able to fling accusations and make all sorts of claims but not be held to account for the dismal performance of the previous government, which we have to deal with on coming into government. We have to clean up their mess and also have a longer term view about what needs to be done.
In particular, their Modern Manufacturing Initiative, seemed like a great idea on paper. However, of that massive $1.5 billion investment which could have lifted capability, 85 per cent was spent in the weeks leading into the election. It was announced two years earlier, but the bulk of it was spent leading into election. This is the decrepit and very shabby way in which those opposite deal with industry policy in this country. I'm not going to respond to their questions because, frankly, if they can't be bothered to stay here to hear the answers then that's the respect with which they should be treated.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
The budget delivers on the government's election commitments, and in particular the government's plan for cheaper child care, funding for schools, the mental health and wellbeing of Australian students and more than 20,000 more university places for areas of skills shortage.
As members would know, the cheaper childcare legislation passed through all stages of the parliament this morning. It comes into effect on 1 July next year, and it will cut the cost of early childhood education and care for more than a million Australian families. That's a good thing. It will help families with the cost of living and it will help parents, especially mothers, get back into the workforce, and to work more paid days and work more paid hours, and get more skilled workers back into the workforce.
As part of that legislation that passed through the parliament today, the government is also providing a minimum level of 36 hours per fortnight of subsidised early childhood education and care to Indigenous children to help meet the Closing the Gap targets for early childhood education and development. I thank both sides of the House and all members of the parliament for their support, in particular, of this measure. Evidence that came out only a couple of months ago showed that the developmental readiness of Indigenous children has gone backwards over the last four years, demonstrating quite clearly the need for us to act here. I think increasing from 24 hours to 36 hours is just the start, if we want to make sure that all of our children are developmentally ready to start school. If they're not, then we've got to take steps like this.
The next step is the ACCC inquiry into childcare costs. That kicks off in January, and we'll get their interim report in June. Next year we'll also kick off a big and broad review of early education and care, which will be done by the Productivity Commission.
In the budget we're also making a record investment in school education. The budget is supporting schools through extra investments in infrastructure and the mental health and wellbeing of students. In particular, the government will invest about $271 million over the next two years in a Schools Upgrade Fund to improve school facilities. The first round of that funding will open shortly.
We are also investing $200 million to help students bounce back from the mental health and wellbeing impacts of COVID. I am sure I share this view with all members of parliament who talk to schoolteachers and school principals: the aftershocks of COVID are still with us. We hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but we're still see its impact in our classrooms. To that end, that fund will help every school in the country. On average, depending on the population of the school and the need, every school will get about $20,000. That can go towards things like counsellors and psychologists and also things like camps and school excursions—the sort of things that will help to bring children together and have a bit of fun, apart from anything else, after the last couple of years. That funding will roll out next year.
A couple of weeks ago I also released the Draft National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. That includes a number of measures for which there is funding set out in the budget, including $159 million to train more teachers as part of the additional 20,000 university places announced recently; $56 million for scholarships or bursaries worth up to $40,000 to encourage our best and brightest to become teachers; $68 million to triple the number of midcareer professional shifting into teaching; $10 million to boost personal development; $10 million on a campaign to raise the status of the teaching profession; and $25 million on a teacher workload reduction fund to trial new ways for states and territories to reduce the workload on teachers and maximise their time to teach. That draft plan is out for consultation now.
It also includes a number of measures that fall out of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review that was commissioned by the former minister and done by Lisa Paul, a former secretary of the department and somebody held in high regard by all of us in this Chamber. A number of initiatives that came out of that have made their way into this draft national teacher action plan. As I said, it's out for consultation at the moment, and we've had so far about 300 submissions, mostly from teachers and principals. I would encourage anybody who might be tuning into consideration in detail to have a look at it and tell us what you think. Tell us what's right about it and tell us what's not right about it. Give us your feedback. I will have a little bit more to say about that a little later on.
The minister just said that this budget delivers on their election commitments. As you can see, there weren't many election commitments in the Education portfolio from the Labor Party. They only had nine years to work them up. They came up with four—no disrespect to this minister, who came in very late and was a bit of a surprise package announced by Prime Minister Albanese, putting aside Tanya Plibersek, who was the responsible shadow minister for so many years. There were four, and he has just outlined those four.
I would like to focus on just one or two of them, but before doing so, could I raise a very pressing matter I have written to the education minister about. The reason it is so pressing is that it concerns our universities being clear and transparent to students about what sort of course they are going to get when they enrol at university next year. Is it going to be online? Is it going to be face to face? What proportions and how many hours are there likely to be of each? We all know that during the COVID period everybody shifted to online. Fair enough; we understand that. Some people prefer online. But students ought to know what they are going to get when they enrol in a course so they can make a proper selection. I've written to the minister in relation to this because the universities themselves aren't taking responsibility and providing that information to year 12 graduates. I would like to see the minister himself put that pressure on the universities for them to deliver upon it, because his response says it will just be dealt with by the accord, which is frankly too late. Year 12s are making decisions now, and I would like to see action taken in relation to that.
I want to raise the issue of the 20,000 places, which the minister mentioned in his remarks and is indeed mentioned in the budget papers. The language in the budget papers was changed from '20,000' places to 'up to 20,000' places. My concern is that many of these 20,000 spots will, in fact, be the re-use of the 100,000 new places the coalition government put in place. My question to the minister is: can you guarantee that these are 20,000 new places on top of the 100,000 places the former government set aside and announced? As I said, the language in the budget papers has changed. I think he should be transparent because 'up to 20,000' places could, in fact, be only 10,000 places or only 5,000 places. They promised 20,000 places, and we want to make sure that they deliver on their promise.
The 20,000 places, which the minister says that he has announced in the budget, are geared towards lower SES students and Indigenous students because they are unrepresented in the tertiary sector. It's a fine ambition to have more low SES people and Indigenous people in the tertiary sector, an ambition shared across the parliament and certainly shared by the coalition. My concern is that it's one thing to get people through the door; it's another to get people to stick and actually graduate. We know there have been problems with high dropout rates, which are higher amongst low SES and Indigenous students than there are on average. We don't want to see people coming through the door and getting a high HECS debt but not getting the qualification. So they end up with HECS debt with no qualification, which doesn't necessarily help anyone. My question is: will he commit to putting more money into the Indigenous Regional Low SES Attainment Fund, which is a fund specifically geared towards helping those students get through their studies and having the best chance of graduating and getting that degree or certificate at the end of the day? That would be a good initiative.
Finally, I want to say that the teacher initiatives that were announced in the budget are strongly supported by the coalition. They did indeed come out of the work of the initial teacher education review, which I commissioned when I was minister. There are some very good recommendations coming out of that. I'm pleased that the government is taking them up, and I hope they'll see them fall through.
My colleague the Minister for Education has spoken about the budget commitments to early childhood education. I'll talk a little bit about them and then about some other areas of early childhood, the other portfolio of youth and the budget commitments. Suffice it to say, on early childhood education the Albanese government has put the education of our youngest Australians at the heart of its first budget, with a $4.5 billion investment in early childhood education and care, through the legislation that passed the Senate last night. I am very proud to have worked with my colleague Minister Clare on these landmark reforms. We recognise it's an investment in our most precious resource, our children. As the minister mentioned, it will make early childhood education care more affordable for over 1.2 million families.
We know that the first five years of a child's life are absolutely vital to their future success and future development both in health and in education. Our investment will also help services in disadvantaged, vulnerable and regional communities to provide high-quality early education and increase the number of children that can access vital early years education.
Upsettingly, for the first time this year, the Closing the Gap target for school readiness developmental outcomes have worsened. This is simply unacceptable, and we recognise that we need to be doing better and turning this around. That's why the budget also includes funding to ensure that First Nations children will be able to gain access to 36 hours of subsidised early childhood education and care per fortnight. Added to that, we've also announced a $10.2 million fund to support the establishment of the new early childhood care and development policy partnership between Australian and state and territory governments and First Nations representatives. The partnership will be co-chaired by SNAICC and ensure that First Nations members are partners in the process. It is absolutely essential that all governments work together in partnership with First Nations people if we are indeed to close the gap and improve outcomes in early childhood education for First Nations communities.
That's why I'm also excited to be leading the Early Years Strategy along with the Minister for Social Services, Minister Rishworth, ensuring that there is a coordinated approach to the first five years of a child's life. By making early childhood education more affordable, we're ensuring more children can access the benefits of foundational years education, no matter what their background is or where they live. The Early Years Strategy will build on that. It includes education but also a whole range of other areas which impact on young children's wellbeing. Again, it is testament to this government's commitment to recognising those first five years of a child's life as absolutely critical to their success later in life and recognising the need for investment in the first five years of the child's life.
Moving onto the youth portfolio, if I may, the budget also includes an investment of $10.5 million to ensure that Australian youth have input on the issues that matter to them. That $10.5 million will fund a new youth engagement model to ensure that there are meaningful opportunities for young Australians to have a say. In addition, over the forward estimates there is $7 million to establish the Office for Youth; $1.4 million for five youth advisory groups to work directly with Australian government agencies on policy and program development; $483,000 for the development of a youth engagement strategy to be delivered in 2024; and $1.5 million for the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition to support its critical role in youth advocacy, engagement and research.
This is a significant shift from the previous government, who abolished the Australian Youth Forum in 2013—a clear indicator that they are not interested in engaging young people, they're not interested in what young people have to say and they think that they can develop policies that impact on young people without ever consulting young people. We take a different approach on this side. That's why we've made a significant investment in ensuring that young people have a voice and have a say. We can be the best government that we can be by including their voices in how we develop policies and legislation that affect them. We have a budget that begins to build the better, fairer future that the Australian people deserve, including our youngest Australians.
Over the last couple of months I've spoken in great detail about the government's cheaper child care bill, and my colleagues and I have asked hundreds of questions of this government regarding their plan, and we're still yet to receive any real answers, even though the bill has now passed through all of its processes as of this morning. We've spent hours in the chamber, in the Senate inquiry, in Senate estimates and on the floor of the other place trying to get any information at all out of this government on how this policy will deliver for families who need it most. All we've learned is that Labor has no real implementation plan, just statements and numbers. Labor has no plan, certainly, to address any of the rising costs or to address the lack of access for families, particularly in regional and remote areas around our country. This bill does not at all address that big problem, a huge problem, for the nine million Australians who live in a childcare desert. There's no plan to address the current workforce concerns. The coalition have been very strong about outlining exactly how they are going to fix that particular plan. There have been a few grand statements, again, but no actual implementation plan.
Let me be clear: on our side, we believe in choice for families and we believe Australian families should be able to make their own choices for their children in their best interests. We also believe in ensuring that working families who need care can access it. This, of course, is a big problem for many of my National Party colleagues who live in regional and remote Australia, which is why the opposition has not opposed this bill. I'll repeat that for the benefit of the Prime Minister who, when the bill was introduced to the parliament, didn't quite hear—perhaps he misheard, like the Treasurer—or didn't quite acknowledge or understand what I said at the dispatch box, which was that the opposition will not oppose this bill and will not stand in the way of any additional support for working families, but that doesn't mean we don't have very real concerns that the costs will blow out and that it won't deliver what the government has promised, because they simply haven't done the work around this bill.
The coalition does have a strong record when it comes to delivering access for families. Under our government, there were 280,000 more children accessing early childhood education. Under Labor's policy, there's a huge concern from many in the sector that there are not enough places for the additional children that may flood the system on 1 July next year. As I said, nine million Australians live in a childcare desert. That is nine million Australians who, if they have a child, will not be better off under this policy because they can't access care through this bill. It makes perfect sense to us on this side. They can't access one extra place. We've asked the government time and again what their plan is to address these concerns and increase access in those areas, and they've come back with nothing—zero. It's $4.7 billion in taxpayer money, and not one extra place has been created for Australian families. This is disappointing news.
They've pointed to the Community Child Care Fund on a number of occasions, but there is no funding for the next grant round in the October budget, nor is there any information on when the next round will open, except 'shortly'. So we've asked the government how many more educators will be needed in the sector to meet the increased influx of children from 1 July. Again, there has been no answer—just waffling speeches about TAFE and university places. Out-of-pocket childcare costs came down 4.6 per cent in the year to June 2022, thanks to the changes we made when we were in government. In contrast, Labor has, of course, always believed that your money is their money. But Labor have changed the price tag of this policy, and this is where I come to my question. The price tag has changed five times now. First, it was $5.4 billion, then it went to $5.1 billion and then it was $4.5 billion. Now they've settled on $4.7 billion, and I read in a story in the media yesterday by the minister that it was $5 billion. So I ask the minister: Which is it? What is the price tag on this policy? Is it likely to blow out? Is it likely to bring down costs for families around Australia? Has the government done the modelling on that? I ask that because Labor, as we know, do the bare minimum when it comes to any work on these grand ideas that they have—no GDP modelling, no attendance or behavioural change modelling. Again, we've heard nothing from this government. So I ask: With no real plan to implement this policy, how can you expect to deliver on all the promises you made to Australian families before the last election? What is the actual cost of this policy to the budget?
I do welcome the shadow minister for education's interest in the student experience for those at university. It's just a shame that he didn't show that level of interest during his time as minister, because under his watch—actually, he was benched for much of that time, so maybe not under his watch. Under the coalition's watch, 14,000 jobs were lost in the university sector. If we are to improve our student experience in the university sector, you would think it would be important to have good teachers and researchers in front, making sure that they are getting good quality education. But, unfortunately, under their watch, 14,000 jobs were lost.
I know the power of education, particularly higher education. I've got a story to tell you, Shadow Minister. There is a 90-second video on YouTube that is the most moving example of the power of education to change lives. It chronicles the extraordinary life of Deng Adut, from being a child soldier in South Sudan to becoming a defence lawyer and refugee advocate in Western Sydney. The turnaround in his life was possible because of his time at Western Sydney University, where he studied law. Deng co-founded a law firm and uses his legal expertise to support Sudanese youth as a defence lawyer, performing much of his work pro bono. He also founded the John Mac Foundation to provide higher education scholarships for students from refugee backgrounds.
Deng's story demonstrates the power of higher education to change lives, and it's clear higher education needs to be central in any narrative around the Australian ideal of egalitarianism. And yet, for too long, where you live, your family background and whether you are Indigenous are still factors in whether you graduate from university. More than 43 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 34 have a bachelor's degree, but that halves for those from a low socioeconomic background and for those living in regional Australia. For Indigenous Australians, less than 10 per cent have a bachelor's degree. If higher education is the great equaliser in an unequal world, there's more for us to do to improve it, and that's why I'm so supportive of the important work that the federal Minister for Education is doing to support student equity in higher education. We have allocated an additional 20,000 university places in areas of skill shortage, with an emphasis on places for underrepresented students. This is important not only for these students; it's also important for our economy, because 90 per cent of the jobs of the future will require post-school qualifications, and 50 per cent of new jobs are expected to require a bachelor's degree or higher. To improve productivity in this country, we need to make the most of the talents here.
I'm really pleased the minister has also tasked a group of eminent Australians from the university sector, industry and government to develop the Australian Universities Accord. The accord will set out a long-term plan for Australia's higher education system. It will look at how this sector can meet the needs of students across all stages of lifelong learning and develop the skills needed now and in the future. And, critically, the accord will examine how to improve access to higher education across teaching, learning and research. As the Prime Minister has often said, the Labor Party is at its best when it is pushing open those doors of opportunity. On this side of the House, we know that there is talent to be found everywhere in this country, across the regions, the suburbs and the cities. The nation's greatest asset is its people. As we confront the many challenges of this century, we should be grateful to know that there's talent, grit and skill in abundance. But we also know the doors of opportunity aren't always open to people in the same way. Opportunity isn't dispersed equally across this country. Whether by birth, class or disability, there are other factors at play that would seek to hold back our nation. So this accord will look at reforms to support greater access and participation for students from underrepresented backgrounds, because the great and enduring task of this government is to widen those doors of opportunity, and that's what this accord does, in the best tradition of the Australian Labor Party—because, the Australian story is one where a child soldier from South Sudan can work hard and build a life for himself here.
Education, as many in the House would agree, is the key to success and a passport for our future. When my mother chose Australia as a settlement country while we were in Hong Kong refugee camps, she told me this was because Australia had the best education system in the world, and that it would guarantee my sisters and me a future. Over the decades we have witnessed the deterioration of our education system, and the inequality faced by students depending on the postcodes of where they live. One of my constituents, Sonia Vujanic, who's studying at Sydney University and was one of the top five finalists in the Raise Our Voice campaign, wrote this:
Transitioning from an underprivileged school in South West Sydney to an acclaimed Australian university was eye-opening. On one hand, I was wonderstruck by the many newly opened doors of opportunity.
But the paradox remained: I became disillusioned upon realising we have a widening educational gap. From resource inequalities to social barriers, how can such a flourishing nation still experience 'a tail of two schools'?
It is indeed a tale of two schools and two cities. Schools like Bonnyrigg High School and St Johns Park High School, in my electorate of Fowler, are still teaching children in demountables. Bonnyrigg High School has 1,650 students but was built for only 800 students. As a result of the overcapacity, 40 demountables have been built, as the school only has 37 classrooms. During summer, many students have had to sit through sweltering and nauseating heat because their classrooms have no air conditioning. Yet in the other city, a private school like the prestigious King's School in north-west Sydney is under investigation for installing a plunge pool for the headmaster and purchasing business-class tickets for staff to attend a regatta in England. No wonder the youth of Fowler feel so let down and disillusioned by our education system.
For a government that claims to be the government for working class Australians and a party that promises equality for all, why is the government giving priority to private schools with a promise of $70.2 billion over the forward estimates when we have a public school system that is literally falling apart at the seams? That is $1.7 billion more than the Morrison government guaranteed in March this year. We've been told it's indexation, and that the government has also provided $1 billion in funding for the public school sector, but this is not enough justification to close the gap between the most disadvantaged and the most privileged.
This year's report on government services showed that 82 per cent of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds attended a public school, and nearly 30 per cent of them did not complete year 12 in 2021. That extra $1.7 billion could be used to make huge improvements to the public school system, including better infrastructure for disadvantaged students, more resources for those from refugee and migrant backgrounds and addressing the workforce shortages to alleviate pressure on the hardworking teachers of Fowler. Of course the government will say that the $70.2 billion is allocated for private schools and that there is a separate state budget for public school education. I would ask the governments, both state and federal, to work together to find equitable funding to ensure our public schools are not left behind. According to a Save Our Schools report the average funding level of a public school in New South Wales is just under 88 per cent of the school resourcing standard. In contrast, New South Wales private schools are generally overfunded, with the average level of funding being nearly 106 per cent. Both levels of government must think long and hard about where they spend our taxpayers' money. The future of Australian depends on it.
I'm not against private schools. They form an important part of our community and they help cultivate the fabric of life and education for many multicultural communities. Of course, I would welcome additional funding measures that would assist my local independent schools, who are in need of additional resources too. We need more transparency on the private school funding system because we all can agree not all schools are the same. We have an increasing gap of inequality, and I would think this government more than others would be supportive of enabling fairer, more equitable and more transparent resourcing that would benefit all Australian children. In the words of Sonia: 'If we aren't breaking stagnant intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, then what is our parliament really accomplishing? How will we ever build the tolerant, resilient society that future generations deserve?'
I thank all members for their contribution to this short but important debate about what I think is the most important topic we can talk about: education, the most powerful cause for good in this country. You'd expect me to say that, and the Minister for Health and Aged Care will probably suggest something different in a moment.
Genuinely, thank you for your important contributions, starting with the member for Fowler. You've got the great privilege of representing one of the greatest parts of this country, including where I went to school—Cabramatta Public School and Canley Vale High School. I get exactly what you say. I'm on the record that a plunge pool for principal doesn't pass the pub test. I want to make sure that we're investing in the schools that need it the most, and we've made a commitment to set all schools on a path to 100 per cent of their full and fair funding. The NAPLAN data that came out recently, which I said was pretty good, considering that Sydney and Melbourne were in lockdown for much of the last couple of years, did tell us one thing that is important, that may be underlined here. If you look at NAPLAN over the last 14 years, you see the reading skills of primary school students today, compared to primary school students 14 years ago, are about a year ahead. That's pretty terrific. But if you dig a bit deeper and have a look at the reading skills of children from poor backgrounds and children from wealthier backgrounds, you see that that gap is growing. What we do there really, really matters. I've said publicly I want that to be the focus or one of the focuses of the next national schools reform agreement because it will help children in my electorate, which is next door to your electorate, Member for Fowler. I care about this deeply, and it's what we do here that can make the world of difference in making sure that children in our electorates and places like it across the country get to university and get to build a career, a family, a business and everything that comes from that.
The member for Moncrieff talked about the cost. Maybe the short answer to that is to go to page 17. The $4.5 billion is the net cost when you take into account the integrity measures, but it sets out in the footnotes exactly why the $4.7 billion figure is there. You talked about workforce. There are a couple of points that are important to make here. There are more people in the early education sector today than there were come the time of the election, about 6,000 more. That's a good thing, but that doesn't mean there's enough. There is still a real shortage. You said there's not a plan. That's not right. The former government and the former minister developed a plan. I'm sure the former minister wouldn't make that point, because he knows that the plan was developed by the former government. We're implementing it, so don't undermine the member for Aston.
I'm looking after you, brother! But on top of that we've got to do more.
We need more people getting qualifications as early childhood education teachers and as educators through the fee-free TAFE places. Skilled migration is part of that as well. State governments have got an important role to play—you might have seen recent announcements by the Victorian and New South Wales governments here. That's important, as is paying our early educators better. In the Liberal Party's comments in the Senate report on the legislation, they talked about workforce, but they didn't talk about paying our early educators more. It's the big silence in the Liberal Party. They never want to see anyone paid more. Multi-employer bargaining, which is part of the workplace relations legislation, is a key part of helping to attract and retain more people in this sector.
In the time I've got left, I will mention that the shadow minister—the former Minister for Education and Youth—talked, importantly, about a couple of things. He mentioned COVID and the short- and long-term impacts it's having on students. He focused on universities, but it's just as right to talk about schools.
Yes. As the shadow minister knows and as I've written back to him—I do want the shadow minister to actively engage with the accord team on this, and I'll write to him about this—the terms of reference say:
That is deliberate there. I know you have a sincere interest in this, and I want you to engage with the panel on this issue and the broader impact that it's having across the sector.
You also asked a question about the 20,000 places and people from underrepresented groups. You make a really important point, Shadow Minister, that their completion rates are lower than others. About 70 per cent of people who start a degree finish it; it's about 60 per cent for people from low SES backgrounds, from the bush or from Indigenous backgrounds. The program you identified is one of a number that are important. HEPPP is another, and enabling programs are important as well. And there is another terms of reference that we really need to look at carefully here, because I want more people from underrepresented groups to go to uni and I want more of them to complete their university degrees.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
I'm pleased to rise to say a few words and take some gentle probing questions about the health budget for 2022. In the election in May, Labor, in the health and aged care area, promised three main things: the first was to strengthen Medicare, the second was to deliver cheaper medicines and the third was to fix the crisis in aged care. In the October budget, we delivered on all three of those promises. Members on our side and, I suspect, members on the other side will be regularly told by their constituents that it has never been harder for them to find a doctor, it's never taken longer to get in to see their GP and it's never been more expensive. We know that to be the case. The data reflects the anecdotal evidence that I know all members of parliament are getting. It's particularly acute in rural and regional Australia, but it has crept right through our cities. The structural challenges in general practice go way beyond the pressures of the pandemic, although, of course, the pandemic has placed enormous pressure on primary care, as it has on all other areas of the health system: the acute sector, mental health, aged care and so many others besides.
The Labor government has no higher priority in the health portfolio than rebuilding general practice. It has suffered nine years of cuts and neglect. Before the beginning of the pandemic it was already experiencing enormous pressure. On top of those two structural pressures, the funding crisis and the pandemic, there is a background of demographic change in patients, with an ageing population and a much higher incidence of complex chronic disease, which is the third major structural pressure on general practice.
Strengthening Medicare was the centrepiece of the policy we took to the last election, and we delivered on that centrepiece in the October budget. To their credit, the former government and the former minister, to whom I paid credit on a number of occasions as his shadow, set up a long process that brought in the AMA, the college of GPs and many other experts besides to develop a 10-year primary care plan that was released in March alongside the last budget of the former government. That was a good thing. Broadly speaking, I think there's a strong consensus that that plan is the right pathway forward for primary care and general practice in particular. The problem was that there was no money attached to it. There had been $468 million previously allocated to the implementation of primary care reform, particularly voluntary patient enrolment, but it was ripped away in the March budget by the former government, which had put it in place to underpin its plans. We committed money at the election. We allocated that money in the October budget to invest in the reforms prioritised by the sector from that 10-year primary care plan. At the moment I'm chairing the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, which meets again on Friday, to prioritise the things that are really important to take that pressure off general practitioners and deliver the accessible quality care that patients deserve. We'll be doing that over the coming months.
This budget also allocated $229 million in infrastructure grants for general practice. General practice deserves more than our thanks for the extraordinary contribution it has made to keeping our community healthy and safe over the course of the pandemic. They need some support to upgrade their IT systems and to make changes to their practice that make their practice more accessible to their local community. We'll be rolling that out in the coming months as well.
There's an incredibly exciting First Nations health package that I was delighted to be able to announce with the now member for Lingiari in her community in Alice Springs during the election campaign. We worked very closely with NACCHO in particular. It will deliver more Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal health practitioners to a sector that desperately needs those workers. It will invest in much-needed dialysis capacity, with 30 new four-chair dialysis units through the country, double the number of communities that get directed support for rheumatic heart disease—a disease that, frankly, should not be present in a developed country like Australia—and much more besides. I'm really looking forward to being able to implement this budget. It will make a difference to the Australian community.
I thank the minister for his comments, and I will proceed with my gentle, probing questions. Our world-class healthcare system is relied upon by all Australians to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Nobody in this building disagrees with that. It is, therefore, critically important that the Albanese government continues the coalition's track record of investing record funding into Australian health care and ensuring the sector's continued viability into the future. However, despite Labor making health and aged care their headline platform during the election, the Albanese Labor government's budget is, unfortunately, further proof that we don't have the important detail.
It's clear that the pandemic will have a significant and ongoing impact on Australia's healthcare system. Elective surgeries have been deferred for almost three years, and a concerning number of screenings and check-ups have been delayed due to COVID over this period. Yet the government's budget makes it clear that they do not have a plan to address these issues. There is no mention in the budget of the critical impact this will have on our hospital system and no measures that are specifically targeted at alleviating these pressures. In fact, the budget removes any additional support provided to our healthcare system to assist with the increased pressures of COVID from the end of this year. That support that was there, that support that is still needed, has been removed. Does that mean Mr Albanese has received advice that the impact of the pandemic will no longer be felt by our hospital system after this year? If he does have such advice, it should be shared with the Australian public by this government that was elected on a platform of transparency.
What's even more concerning is the $2.4 billion reduction in hospital funding to the states and territories contained in the government's budget over the next four years. This is despite Finance Minister Gallagher's acknowledgement that the government is expecting that demand for hospital services will continue to grow as we normalise back into a post-COVID world. In the same budget paper that includes the funding decrease, Budget Paper No. 1, the government has also acknowledged that there will be expected growth in the assistance to states for public hospitals largely reflecting anticipated growth in the volume of services, yet this is not reflected in the $2.4 billion reduction in assistance that is provisioned in the budget. Minister, if the government knows that demand for hospital services is expected to continue to grow over the forward estimates, why have you not provisioned for additional funding in the budget? I can only be left to assume that it's purely an accounting trick to help the Treasurer with his budget bottom line.
I want to talk about urgent care clinics. On the topic of assisting our hospital system with increased pressures, Labor points, as they should, to their urgent care clinics election commitment. This is another measure that falls into this emerging trend of making an announcement with no detail to underpin and demonstrate its implementation. Minister, how is your government addressing concerns that the clinics are likely to fragment care? Can you provide any reassurance that these clinics won't add to the workforce pressures that are being experienced across Australia, particularly in rural and regional Australia?
On the eve of the election, Senator Gallagher made a commitment that the clinics would be delivered in six months time. It was confirmed in budget estimates that the government is still promising this deadline to the Australian public. However, the inability of Minister Gallagher to even provide the locations of the urgent care clinics in budget estimates has left us with absolutely no confidence that this delivery will be met. Minister Gallagher even admitted that there is still work to do to improve the urgent care clinic policy model. So, Minister, can you confirm when these clinics will be up and running, considering that the policy has not even been finalised? I note that one of those clinics is in my hometown of Albury. Please put it to the top of the list. It mightn't be the best solution for public patients and emergency waiting rooms, but we would welcome anything additional in rural and regional Australia. I sincerely hope that the government's intention to deliver the urgent care clinics within the next six months is not just an aspirational target from the Albanese government, because Australians cannot afford more headline commitments which don't deliver genuine outcomes.
Considering the small number of urgent care clinics that have been announced across the country relative to the size of the issues facing our healthcare system, I am also interested to know whether the government is considering any further measures to address the increased pressure on our hospitals. Right now, Australia's healthcare system and its hardworking workforce needs certainty that they will be supported. Once again, we aren't seeing much beyond the headline announcements, and we really need details and a plan to address the real issues. So, Minister, what is the government's plan to support the healthcare sector throughout this period of increased pressure?
I may be among the most qualified people in this Chamber today to speak about the health system. I lived and breathed it for 26 years. The reason I stand in this Chamber, though, is that I could not turn away from the unmet needs of my healthcare colleagues at the start of this pandemic. It breaks my heart to see what has happened to our health system, and it is thanks to nine years of neglect and the set-and-forget mentality of those opposite who failed to implement the necessary reforms and investment in workforce and infrastructure. Then, of course, along came a public health crisis. There is always going to be a public health crisis, and in this case it was the pandemic. It was the ultimate pressure test. What we are seeing now is the effects of this crisis on a health system that was already struggling but is now on its knees. Only last week, in Victoria, I learned that another 20 per cent of nurses have actually left the profession. That is unacceptable. We just cannot replace these professionals fast enough.
On the front line, I saw and heard their call, their cries and their desperation. I heard this in Cabrini, a major private hospital in my electorate, as well as at the Alfred. In fact, there are health professionals who work in both of those places. That's what they do. It's a mobile workforce; we move around. They told me that during the pandemic in the early years they were abused, they were hushed up and they were gaslighted—I heard a bit of gaslighting just now. What it did was light a fire in me that burns still. Healthcare workers demanded better. They wanted masks, they wanted fit-testing—where the masks actually fit their face—and they wanted transparent reporting. I reached out to both sides of parliament at the time. I'm pleased to say that our current health minister listened. He listened to me, he was curious and he asked the right questions. It was my colleagues working in my electorate who propelled me into this House because they knew that, as a first responder, a researcher and a frontline specialist, I knew the pressures on the health system. I know them acutely and intimately. Their stories were the reason for the season.
In government now, I'm pleased to say I'm surrounded by like-minded colleagues. We have several doctors, we have nurses and we have a pharmacist on our side, and we get it. I'm pleased to say that we regard our healthcare workforce and our aged-care workforce as national assets. They are national assets. They are critical to the functioning of our healthcare system. There is no functioning of our nation without a reliable healthcare system. It must be robust and it must be supported.
We are investing in 50 urgent care clinics. This is a game changer. I worked in one of the busiest hospitals in the country, a hospital that, only last week, our health minister described as a jewel, which it is—the Alfred. Our emergency department is just bursting at the seams. It always has been, but it's worse now. Why? Because people have deferred their care, and they are now turning up with advanced diseases and illnesses—sometimes cancers. There is ambulance ramping and there are people lying in trolleys. My mornings were spent in the emergency department in damage control, basically, trying to get people out and in as quickly as possible. So those 50 urgent care clinics are going to make a real difference. It means that people can turn up with only their Medicare card. They don't need their credit card. That is a real issue in my electorate—people are ringing my office on a daily basis, asking about which clinics actually bulk-bill anymore. You shouldn't need to turn up to an emergency department if you don't have a serious illness. You should be able to go somewhere else. That is what we're delivering.
We're also investing in our health workforce with a national nurse and midwifery health service of $25 million, which is going to look after and protect this national asset. The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce is fantastic. For too long, we have pivoted towards supporting hospitals. Supporting hospitals is important, but let's not forget that our primary-care workforce is actually the backbone of our health system. It takes six years to get through medical school and then another 10 to 15 years to become a specialist, so you're looking at nearly 15 years for a general practitioner to come out. So we need to start that planning now. We're picking up the slack, and we're getting on with it. In addition to that, we're also addressing this maldistribution of doctors from urban environments into the regions with a substantial amount of funding.
I rise to speak on mental health in Australia following the government's recent budget. Mental health and suicide prevention, of course, are a key focus of the opposition, as it is for me. As shadow minister for youth, I understand the enormity of that challenge. The opposition has a strong track record of investing in and prioritising mental health support, whether that be at the youth level, through our expansion of the headspace network, which provides critical mental health and wellbeing support to young people across Australia, including my electorate in Southport, or through our longstanding investments in men's sheds, which connect men in our community and are a powerful tool in addressing their mental health and wellbeing—I've got three of those in my electorate, at Miami, Ashmore and Nerang.
The coalition has a strong record of investing in supports for and research on eating disorders so we can better understand the diseases, enable earlier intervention and encourage more people to seek help so they have the best chance of recovering. I commend all healthcare professionals who work to provide that link between mental health services and schools to facilitate the early recognition of and intervention with depression and related disorders amongst our young people. We must acknowledge the struggles Australian youth face. That is why this new government must continue our legacy of prioritising investment in mental health.
The national study of mental health discovered that almost two in five Australians aged 16 to 24 had been dealing with a mental illness for more than 12 months. To help address these issues, the coalition provided funding to further invest in and expand the role of organisations such as Head to Health and headspace, so as to increase accessibility and the availability of support for young people in those communities. The government must outline its plan to ensure that these communities are able to access the supports they so desperately need.
We on this side understand that the risk of suicide is often highest two to three years after a crisis—a pandemic or a natural disaster such as a flood—and many communities across Australia are now coming to terms with those challenges. Communities across Australia have encountered one challenge after another, it seems. Minister: Are you considering further investment in mental health programs, noting the devastating floods that are currently affecting so many in New South Wales and Victoria? Where in your budget is there additional support for these people to turn to?
It's also critical that young people be at the forefront of these discussions, especially in advising governments of where investment in mental health supports is best placed to achieve real outcomes. That is why I held a local Moncrieff youth roundtable in my office to discuss issues that matter most to young people in my community. Mental health was clearly the biggest issue that they are facing. I heard some very poignant stories from some beautiful young people who came to my office to talk about the top five issues concerning them. Mental health and wellbeing was something that we spent a lot of time talking about as being of great concern to young people on the Gold Coast.
The Albanese government must prioritise mental health and give certainty to the millions of Australians each year who rely on the 20 Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions introduced by the coalition government during the pandemic. Australians have been through multiple disasters and a pandemic, and now there is the compounding impact of the cost-of-living crisis placing additional stress and pressure on mums and dads and families around the country. At a time when Australians need support the most, the government has not provided any certainty in the budget that it will continue the Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions that the coalition doubled in 2020 from 10 session to 20 session. This measure will return to 10 sessions in December unless the government chooses to continue the additional support provided by the coalition, which has been relied on by so many Australians as they seek support when facing these difficult times. Minister: will the Albanese government provide certainty to Australians now and commit to continuing the 20 subsidised sessions that the coalition introduced? It's a very important measure that is relied upon by so many Australians across the country, including families who are facing challenges and mental health difficulties. Or will you be ripping this additional support away from Australians at a time when communities—particularly those in New South Wales and Victoria, but there is also inland flooding in regional and remote Australia—are currently underwater?
This government inherited an aged-care sector in crisis, an aged-care sector that had faced neglect for almost a decade under the Liberals and Nationals. There were 23 reports, inquiries, and studies and, of course, a royal commission. The recommendations were almost entirely not implemented. The Albanese government's budget starts the process of restoring safety, dignity and quality in aged care. This budget reflects the Albanese government's priority to change aged care for the better and deliver the care that older Australians deserve.
The Albanese Labor government has now addressed 37 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and the budget delivers on 22 of our election commitments. With a total investment of $3.9 billion, we will lift the standard of care for residents of aged-care homes by putting nurses back into nursing homes on site 24/7. We will deliver more carers with more time to care through mandated care minutes and we will work with the Maggie Beer Foundation so that residents have access to better, tastier and more nutritious food. We will deliver increased transparency and accountability in the sector, making sure that public funds go exactly where they're supposed to—on care. We've also committed to funding the pay rise for our valuable and dedicated aged-care workers who, for too long, haven't seen their work valued for what it is—highly skilled and incredibly important.
Our reforms signal our steadfast commitment to meet the challenges facing the aged-care sector. The former government wouldn't, or couldn't, address many of these challenges. Older Australians, their families and the dedicated workers that care for them deserve an aged-care system that delivers safe, high-quality care and a workplace to be proud of, and this budget starts that journey. This budget will help build a stronger aged-care workforce, improve food standards for residents and introduce tougher penalties and transparency measures to protect recipients of aged care from abuse, neglect and exploitation. From 1 July 2023, aged-care residents will benefit from the requirement for aged-care homes to have a registered nurse on site 24/7, reducing unnecessary trips to the hospital. There will also be an increase to the mandatory care time requirements in residential aged-care homes, starting with 200 care minutes, including 40 registered nurse minutes, from 1 October 2023 and 215 care minutes, including 44 registered nurse minutes, from 1 October 2024. The budget includes $2.5 billion to fund these changes to bring in the minimum staffing standards.
An investment of $3.6 million will establish a new national registration scheme for personal care workers to professionalise the workforce. The budget includes $9.9 million to establish an aged-care complaints commissioner to ensure that complaints are properly and thoroughly dealt with and ensure that older Australians and their families have their voices heard. Funding of $38.7 million will establish an inspector-general of aged care to target systemic issues, provide independent oversight of the aged-care system and make recommendations directly to government. The $68.5 million strengthening regional stewardship measure will expand the department's local presence to better lead and respond to aged-care issues on the ground in regional and rural Australia. These regional stewards will be the eyes and ears for aged care, improving the transparency and accountability of the sector in the regions they serve and helping to ensure that older Australians are able to access the aged-care services they need in the communities they live in.
Older First Nations people, older Australians from diverse communities, older people living with dementia and older Australians in regional areas will benefit from $26.1 million of targeted funding for individual aged-care homes. This funding will support the increase to access to culturally safe care that acknowledges the diverse needs of older Australians. Initiatives to progress the in-home aged-care reforms will also be funded in the amount of $23.1 million, including additional consultation and a large-scale trial of a new assessment tool. The Commonwealth Home Support Program will be extended to provide continuity of care for over 800,000 older people who access the program.
My questions to the Minister for Aged Care are: How do the aged-care measures included in the October budget directly benefit older Australians in care? What benefit should older Australians and the wider health system see from the government's measure to introduce 24/7 nurses?
Those of us who live in the bush wouldn't live anywhere else. But the fact is that, if you live in regional, rural or remote Australia, you are likely to be older, sicker and have poorer health outcomes than your city cousins. Access to an adequate healthcare workforce and the services that that brings remains one of the greatest challenges in regional communities today.
One thing that people from the bush generally have in common is that we're a pretty pragmatic bunch. We judge people on what they do rather than what they say. So, if the Minister for Health, Mark Butler, says that the critical shortages of GP graduates in Australia is 'terrifying', we expect that, at the same time, he will offer up solutions to address this issue. Regrettably, the Albanese government's recent budget does not contain a single initiative that responds to the workforce crisis being experienced by rural, regional and remote Australians. Again, Labor is proving to be all talk rather than action.
The government's Jobs and Skills Summit was meant to address this issue, but all it delivered was another talkfest that failed to deliver any real plans. Therefore, I ask the minister: what tangible action is being taken right now to address the real and significant GP workforce shortages, particularly in rural, regional and remote Australia? The only initiative delivered to date has been the expansion of the Distribution Priority Area, DPA, classifications for overseas trained doctors, and that has only managed to make the workforce shortage issues worse.
Historically, the DPA classification has been crucial in addressing GP workforce shortages in the bush. Regrettably, the Albanese government has continued to rub salt into the wounds of rural communities by announcing in the budget that they will expand the DPAs for a further 12 months. This means that rural and regional communities will continue to compete with larger towns and outer-city suburbs for doctors. It makes no sense whatsoever that the remote town of Smithton in my electorate must compete with greater Hobart for doctors because they are both classified as rural.
When asked in Senate estimates if the Albanese government had consulted with rural and regional communities before deciding to expand the DPA classification, Assistant Minister McCarthy confirmed that she was 'not aware of any consultation'. Therefore, Minister, I ask: did the government consult with rural and regional communities prior to the decision to expand DPA classifications, and is the government aware of how many GPs have been lost to rural and regional communities since the initial decision was made?
The aged-care workforce also has critical workforce issues. In spite of this, the Albanese government has brought forward the Fair Work Commission's time line for the implementation of 24/7 registered nurses in aged-care homes. This decision has been taken without providing any immediate support measures to train the registered nurses in the sector. So, Minister, I ask: why was this not represented in the budget? The support provided to address the critical workforce issues experienced in the country will not even scratch the surface. In the minister 's own words:
Without workers, the discussions of care minutes, of improved systems, of returning security and dignity to aged care means little…
Minister, does this mean that the Albanese government's aged-care package requiring 24/7 registered nurses in aged-care homes means little, since they are not supporting the training and introduction of additional registered nurses in the sector? It's all well and good to support aged-care facilities and expect them to afford to meet the 24/7 registered nurse requirement, but there is no point in providing that support if facilities do not have access to the additional workforce to hire these additional nurses in the first place.
When you look at the $2.5 billion aged-care package line by line, it confirms what we already know, and that is that the Albanese government is strong on the headline announcement and it is rather missing out on the detail and the outcome. Finally, Minister, I ask: why is there not a single measure included in the budget to bolster the RN workforce? There are five questions.
First Nations people continue to experience a burden of disease that is 2.3 times greater than that of non-Indigenous Australians. Chronic disease causes 64 per cent of this burden. The budget includes funding for 17 critical First Nations health infrastructure projects across country. Investing in primary care infrastructure will improve access to primary care for people in country, closer to home, and avoid the need for this care to be provided in hospitals. Projects spread across Australia include the health facility in Palmerston in the Northern Territory for Danila Dilba Health Service, a new health clinic in Ceduna for Yadu Health and a new build in Bunbury for South West Aboriginal Medical Service.
The government has committed $61.1 million for early intervention and preventative health actions, with a particular focus on chronic disease. The budget includes $45 million to address chronic kidney disease—the leading cause of hospitalisation for First Nations people, particularly in the Northern Territory—delivering up to 30 four-chair renal dialysis units and related water projects. It was great to be with the health minister when we made this announcement. Sites and timing will be worked out in partnership with key First Nations stakeholders. The budget also includes $1.1 million for two dialysis treatment buses in far west New South Wales and $824,000 both for the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation Aboriginal medical service in New South Wales to expand needed and necessary renal and ECG facilities and for Aboriginal Medical Services Redfern to purchase machines for early detection of cardiovascular health conditions. As the minister said, there is $14.2 million to increase rheumatic heart disease screening, prevention and treatment services, which will be delivered in full partnership with the First Nations health sector.
Improving health outcomes for First Nations mothers and babies is a priority to address the disproportionately adverse perinatal outcomes compared with non-Indigenous mothers and babies. We have committed $22.5 million to Waminda to establish a birthing-on-country centre of excellence. I can say the one on the New South Wales South Coast will be just as good as the one in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
The government is committing to building the Aboriginal community controlled health sector and will provide $164.3 million for new and enhanced health facilities across Australia to provide increased and improved access for First Nations people to culturally safe care. Greater health gains or benefits of up to 50 per cent can be achieved if services are delivered through an Aboriginal community controlled health service, or ACCHO. Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands is the way in which we will make the difference. In 2016, it was estimated that Aboriginal community controlled health services served between one-third to one-half of First Nations populations. The government has listened to the First Nations health experts. We will provide $54.3 million over five years to provide the important 500 traineeships for First Nations people in the Aboriginal community controlled health sector.
The remoteness of communities across the Top End of the Northern Territory means that, for the member for Solomon, for myself and for Senator McCarthy, access to aerial medical services is vital in critical emergency situations. The government is providing funding of $10.1 million in 2022-23 to CareFlight, which will improve access to rescue services and emergency aeromedical transport for injured and sick First Nations Territorians across the Top End of the Northern Territory. Minister, my question is: could you outline how the Albanese government is continuing to work to ensure that health care and infrastructure are delivered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a culturally safe and appropriate way?
I rise today to speak about the government's health measures in the 2022-23 budget. Health is a human right, and there needs to be equitable access to health care for all Australians. All Australians deserve and want the best in health and health care. They also want a government that is fiscally responsible and invests strategically to ensure value for money and return on investment. The best return on investment is prevention, and taking a long-term view. We need to plan for what we know is on the horizon, whether it be preventable chronic disease, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for health risks associated with climate change or the GP crisis.
This is the first federal budget that took wellbeing into consideration, but it does not go far enough to invest in the area of prevention of disease. We know that 87 per cent of deaths in Australia are linked to chronic illness, and almost 40 per cent of chronic diseases can be prevented by addressing lifestyle factors. The National Preventive Health Strategy recommends that a target of five per cent of the health budget be dedicated to preventive health. However, this budget does not deliver on that. Most notably, one of the biggest risk factors to many chronic diseases, obesity, isn't addressed. The budget does not mention, let alone invest in, the newly announced National Obesity Strategy. This is a powerful strategy, but it will have no benefit sitting as a pile of papers on the minister's desk.
Australia bore the brunt of our failure to plan for the pandemic, and yet this budget also fails to plan for the ongoing nature of the pandemic. We're in the midst of yet another wave of COVID-19 and we are staring down the barrel of long-COVID impacts. Yet MBS COVID-19 measures are only budgeted to the end of this year. That won't even get us to the next budget. Additionally, the budget fails to recognise the impacts of the pandemic on mental health, including the spike in eating disorders. Many of my constituents are calling for an extension of the additional 10 psychology sessions.
Also worryingly, the budget for public hospitals is $2.4 billion less than forecast in May 2023. Meanwhile, hospitals are at breaking point. One of my particular focuses is advocating for the government to address the GP crisis. If general practice folds, then the entire health system goes down with it. I know that the minister recognises this as a major challenge, however the budget doesn't reflect the measures needed to turn around the current trajectory that will lead to a deficit of 11,000 GPs by 2030—and this is across both rural and urban areas. Measures to increase the Medicare rebate, increase bulk-billing incentive and bolster GP numbers require strategic funding over the forward estimates to drive the required structural change.
Finally, the issue that is recognised by the World Health Organization and the Australian Medical Association as the greatest challenge to human health is climate change. I welcome the establishment of the Centre for Disease Control. It firmly demonstrates that this government recognises the benefits of planning for major public health emergencies in Australia, such as the increased incidence of diseases associated with climate change. It will allow Australia to catch up with the other OECD countries, after years of experts calling for it to be established. The $3.2 million in this budget is small but it will get the ball rolling.
Finally, this government failed to allocate money for one of the greatest issues to come out of the pandemic—eating disorders and the increase in mental health issues. The services in my electorate are struggling, and there is no certainty that the additional psychology sessions will remain—something that many of my constituents have been vocal about. So I ask the minister: What will the government do in upcoming budgets to address the lack of funding for strategic planning commitments such as the National Obesity Strategy, the Centre for Disease Control, ongoing pandemic risks and mental health? When will the government increase the Medicare rebate for GPs and the bulk-billing incentive, to relieve the burden on our struggling primary healthcare system? Will the next budget be a health budget and a true wellbeing budget?
I think there were about 38 questions from the member for Mackellar there. Forgive me for addressing all of the questions in very short order, just to get through as many as I can in my allotted time. I thank all members for their contribution to an area of policy that I know is dear to everyone's heart, because we all know how important it is for our community. As for prevention, as the member for Mackellar may know, it's our intention that the CDC take responsibility for the overall prevention policy. What we've said at this stage, as we engage with states and territories in the sector, is that the CDC will largely be stayed initially looking at infectious diseases, for obvious reasons, given the pandemic, but my vision is for it to play a strong role in noncommunicable diseases and prevention in particular.
I'm talking to groups in the community about the obesity strategy. Again, it's a very good-looking document, but it's not going to change much if we don't find ways to turn it into a funded action plan. I'm very committed to that. I must say that, in the 10 years I've been out of the health portfolio, smoking rates have improved dramatically to the point where they're probably the best in the world; obesity rates have deteriorated dramatically to the point where they are some of the worst in the world. This must be a focus of the health portfolio over the course of this decade.
The member also asked, as did the member for Moncrieff, about better access. I've said in the parliament before that we are looking at that and a range of other COVID related measures that are due to terminate on 31 December. We will have more to say about that in the very near future. The member also asked, as did the member for Farrer, about hospital funding reflected in the budget. As members would know, and certainly the member for Farrer should know, as a former health minister, we have an activity based funding system. We pay according to the bill sent to us by states and territories. Activity has obviously been constrained for a range of reasons associated with the pandemic. A lot of activity was essentially diverted from the end NHRA area of activity into the COVID NPA. That is going to have an impact on the activity they report to the administrator. We simply reflect the numbers given to us from the states.
There will be reconciliation of 2022-23 activity by the hospital funding administrator in early calendar 2023. I think everybody expects hospital activity to rebound, but how it will rebound and how quickly it will rebound is still to be known. If the member for Farrer checked her notes about how hospital funding does work, the states send us the bill, we pay the cheque. We pay 45 per cent of the increase in activity, and that's reflected in our budget papers, as it has been in the last 10 or 11 years since the first ABF agreement was reached. I think they're all the measures that were asked by the member for Mackellar.
I thank the member for Lingiari for her support in developing the First Nations package and her recognition that this is a huge implementation challenge in which she will play such an important role. To the member for Braddon, can I say—as I think was reflected in Tasmanian media this morning—there's a great discussion going on between our government and the Tasmanian Premier about how we can cooperate as two levels of government. I intend to have another discussion with him about that which will cover the whole of the great island of Tasmania. I know the depth of the GP crisis that is in place down there. There is a range of elements to deal with rural general practice in the budget. I encourage the member to look at them. They go to additional funds for innovative models of care. They go to additional workforce incentives for GPs working in rural Australia, particularly with additional skills, like obstetrics, emergency and mental health skills. They go to additional John Flynn training places, a program that's been very successfully rolled out in Tasmania, among other parts of the country. They go to additional Commonwealth supported places for the James Cook University, a terrific university in Far North Queensland. I encourage the member for Braddon to look at them. There was strong consultation around DPA. There was a 12-month Senate inquiry that held hearings, including in Tasmania, that informed the policy that we took to the last election.
To the member for Boothby, can I say that the package that the Minister for Aged Care and Sport—who would have loved to have been with us today—has rolled out through two pieces of legislation already passed through the parliament and in the budget will make a real difference to those older Australians who have worked so hard and have paid their taxes their entire life and built the community that we are so privileged to live in and deserve a better aged-care system than we are currently delivering to them. This budget will make a real difference, and I know that all members will get behind the initiatives we've funded.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
The October budget demonstrates that the Albanese Labor government is getting on with delivering its election commitments, rebuilding trust in government, supporting our most vulnerable people and improving safety. In the 2022-23 October budget the government announced funding of $591.4 million over four years for new measures in my portfolio. We're investing $262.6 million, including $68.8 million per year ongoing, to establish and support the ongoing operation of the independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. This funding will ensure the commission has the resources to properly consider referrals and allegations, conduct timely investigations and undertake corruption prevention and education activities.
Jointly with the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, I also announced in the budget a record $99 million First Nations Justice package aimed at closing the gap. This includes $81.5 million for justice reinvestment initiatives to be delivered in partnership with First Nations communities, including an independent unit to support these programs. There's also $13.5 million for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to ensure First Nations families can access culturally appropriate and timely legal assistance before, during and after coronial processes. The budget also delivered $11 million for community led initiatives to improve safety in Central Australia.
The government is providing a funding boost of $49.8 million to the Australian Human Rights Commission to help rebuild its functions as Australia's national human rights institution after years of neglect. This includes $10.5 million for the commission to implement the recommendations of the Respect@Work report; to implement the positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation; as well as to create a one-stop shop for workplace sexual harassment information. The commission is also receiving $7.5 million to develop a national antiracism strategy and to extend the 'Racism. It Stops with Me' campaign.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will receive $5.5 million to investigate and respond to complaints relating to the Optus ransomware attack. We're investing $22.7 million to enhance the capacity of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to digitally manage evidence. The Australian Federal Police will receive $45.7 million for Pacific security and engagement initiatives, including AFP deployment in Honiara through the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force. The crucial work of the royal commission into the robodebt scheme will be supported with an additional $30 million.
We're also delivering on our election commitment to provide $12 million for Community Legal Centres in New South Wales and Queensland to assist flood and bushfire affected people to access timely legal assistance. Also, $7.7 million over four years from 2023, and $2.4 million per year ongoing, is to be provided for the Federal Circuit and Family Court to enable workers to recover underpayment of wages more easily under the small claims process in the Fair Work Act 2009.
Finally, the government will establish two task forces within the Attorney General's Department to, firstly, scope options to establish a federal judicial commission, and, secondly, to scope the establishment of an anti-slavery commissioner to work with business, civil society and state and territory governments to support compliance with Australia's Modern Slavery Act 2018 and to address modern slavery and supply chains.
With these important budget measures, the job of cleaning up the mess the Liberals left behind is well underway. There is more work to do, but I'm proud that the October budget is already demonstrating this government's commitment to integrity, human rights and safety.
I rise today to seek answers from the Attorney-General regarding unprecedented actions he's taken in the few months since he's taken office. The Attorney-General has intervened in two key proceedings that were underway before Australia's independent judiciary, before the courts had delivered their decisions. He put an end to those independent processes that were on foot, with no adequate justification. One case was before the ACT Supreme Court and the other was before the High Court. Australians deserve answers as to why he has done this and whether the Attorney has confidence in Australia's independent judiciary.
The first matter was the case of Bernard Collaery, a matter that was before the ACT Supreme Court. The Attorney-General's unprecedented action in discontinuing proceedings against Mr Collaery for security related offences is extraordinary and unexplained. Mr Collaery was facing five criminal charges. On the first count, Mr Collaery was facing a conspiracy charge which alleged that he conspired with Witness K to communicate information on matters to the government of Timor-Leste that was prepared by, or on behalf of, ASIS. It's alleged the information came to the knowledge of Witness K by reason of him being, or having been, a staff member of ASIS and that the communication was not made under the ways that would have made it lawful under the Intelligence Services Act. The other four charges were counts of breaching section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act, with Mr Collaery facing allegations that he unlawfully communicated to journalists information that came to him by reason of him having entered into a contract agreement or arrangement with ASIS.
The independent Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, appearing in Senate estimates last October, was asked why the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions continued to prosecute the case against Mr Collaery. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions made clear that decisions about whether or not to prosecute were based on public interest and must not be influenced by factors such as possible political advantage or disadvantage to the government or personal feelings concerning the alleged offender or victim. She stated:
We continue to review matters, whether or not they're in the public interest, and we have determined, on the material known to us and the seriousness of the alleged conduct, that it remains in the public interest to proceed.
But, in July, just weeks after having been appointed, the Attorney-General announced that he was ending the prosecution against Mr Collaery under section 71 of the Judiciary Act. This was an extraordinary and unprecedented step. In fact, it's the only time in Australia's history that this power has been used.
At the most recent Senate estimates, the acting director of public prosecutions told the committee that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions was never consulted about the decision to cease proceedings in the Collaery matter. Why, given all the indications from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions that it was in the public interest to proceed, did the Attorney-General break with convention and cease this prosecution? What message does this send to people who might deal in Australia's secrets? Why has the Attorney-General chosen to intervene in this matter and not matters involving other whistleblowers? Was it because Mr Collaery was an attorney-general in the ACT Labor government? What does this decision say about the operability of the Intelligence Services Act?
I can see those opposite are really enjoying these questions. The Attorney-General used powers never before exercised and has been opaque about his reasons. What warranted this action? Did Mr Collaery represent himself to the Attorney-General and make those requests? How many legal activists put pressure on the Attorney-General to make this decision? What public interest has been served by the Attorney-General's intervention here?
The second matter is in relation to the case of Montgomery v Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. Mr Montgomery was a New Zealand citizen residing in Australia on a visa. After being sentenced to 14 months in prison for aggravated burglary, his visa was cancelled and Mr Montgomery was detained in immigration detention. He claimed that he could not be deported as he'd been culturally adopted by an Aboriginal community, despite having no biological Aboriginal descent. The case followed a previous High Court decision, Love and Thoms, which controversially determined that an Australian who met the definition, under the Mabo case, of Aboriginality, descent, self-identification and community recognition cannot be placed in immigration detention or deported. That was a split decision, 4-3, of the High Court and the law after Love and Thoms was unclear. The Morrison government decided to bring the Montgomery case to the High Court to clarify, following the Love and Thoms decision. The court heard the arguments. It reserved its decision.
The Commonwealth had already expended finance and time bringing the case. Policymakers were looking forward to the clarification about the definition of Aboriginality for the purposes of migration law. But, before the court had delivered its decision, the government decided to revoke the cancellation of Mr Montgomery's visa and then the Attorney-General discontinued the matter. Was the Attorney-General involved in the decision to revoke the visa cancellation? Did the minister for immigration consult with the Attorney-General in making that decision? Why did the government not wait until such time as the court had delivered its decision in the Montgomery case before making a decision about his migration status, particularly given the benefit of clarifying the definition of Aboriginality for the purpose of migration law?
These two extraordinary interventions deserve an explanation, and I call on the Attorney-General to give one to the House.
Attorney-General, as you're well aware, access to justice underpins our legal system, and I congratulate you for the multiple measures announced in the government's October budget that will support access to justice, something I know you cared about way back when you started your legal career in the Northern Territory. Labor has known for over 50 years that it's particularly important that families who need to use the family law system have access to justice.
The scheme introduced in 2019 to protect against cross-examination by a perpetrator of family violence has increased access to justice for many victims of family violence who find themselves entangled in the Family Court system. The prospect of being interrogated by an abuser through cross-examination has caused many victims to abandon their family law applications. In some cases, victims have agreed to unsafe arrangements for themselves and their children just so they do not have to endure the court process and face their abuser directly.
The problem with this scheme, however, was always that it was not properly funded by the previous government since it commenced in 2019. It was a good idea, but it had bad implementation. Put simply, the scheme kept running out of money. We heard in Senate estimates a couple of weeks ago that on at least two occasions in just one jurisdiction the Attorney-General's Department was advised that they would need to suspend taking on any news matters if additional funding was not immediately made available. I've heard of families whose cases were left part heard when representation to prevent direct cross-examination could not continue due to that lack of funding. Those families experienced additional delay and additional stress. Attorney-General, I was very pleased to see additional funding of $52.4 million for this scheme in the October budget. I note that this is the largest single funding injection for this important scheme.
Also, as you are well aware, Attorney-General, the Morrison government inflicted an extensive restructure on the family law system, something I personally think was reprehensible and without any political mandate. It was a craven, sneaky act from a craven, sneaky government. Abolishing the Family Court of Australia was done on the basis of a desktop review, with no credible evidence that it would improve the experience of families using the court system. I know, Attorney-General, that you are carefully assessing those changes to ensure that such a major restructure is achieving its purpose, something I have severe doubts about.
The court itself has introduced some innovative measures to improve the experience of families using the court system. One is the Lighthouse Project, a family safety risk-screening and specialised case management pilot for matters involving family violence. Attorney-General, I was very pleased to hear the announcement in the October budget that the government is providing more than $24 million over three years to increase the capacity of legal aid commissions to support the national expansion of the Lighthouse Project from three to 15 family law registries of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia. Obviously, providing legal assistance at an early stage of family law proceedings will increase access to justice, but it will also ensure court resources are used efficiently.
Attorney General, as you are also well aware, my electorate of Moreton was heavily impacted by floods in 2011 and again in February this year. There were 2,200 homes that had floorboards covered by water, and many businesses were destroyed. While the water has been mopped up and the piles of destroyed possessions have been taken away, the trauma will endure for those families for a very long time. What is not visible in the images flashing across our television screens during such disasters is the often complicated legal consequences that follow. People have lost everything, including their legal documents. Legal advice in the weeks and months after such an event is crucial, I would suggest. Attorney General, the Albanese government's election commitment of $12 million to boost funding for legal assistance in areas that were affected by floods in 2022 will help those in my community who are still struggling with the legal impact of the February floods. I commend you for that commitment, which will provide increased access to justice in my community and other communities in Queensland and northern and western New South Wales that have been hit by these disasters.
As I said at the start, access to justice underpins our legal system. It is also the core tenet of our modern democracy. I know that, as Attorney-General and the first law officer, you are committed to providing access to justice. So, Attorney General, can you tell us how you're going to further increase access to justice for the constituents of Moreton?
I have three key questions for the Attorney-General. The first is in regard to the Safer Communities Fund, which I note from the budget was defunded in the current budget. I note that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry's Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2021 estimated that antisemitic incidents, including assaults, verbal abuse and vandalism, increased by 35 per cent over the previous year, a worrying trend that is mirrored around the world. One particularly disturbing example from my area was the story of a young Jewish student being pushed into a school locker and sprayed with aerosol to simulate gas chambers. The Safer Communities Fund has played a critical role in giving the local Jewish community across Wentworth and across the country vital infrastructure to protect residents. This includes protection for synagogues, schools and other community centres as well as monitoring of digital threats. These grants have only partly covered physical infrastructure and the community themselves have invested millions to supplement this with their own funds. I would also like to note that the work of the Community Security Group, which has been partly funded by the Safer Communities Fund as well as by the Jewish community, also provides vital information to the New South Wales police and others by working together and sharing intelligence. I would like to understand from the Attorney-General what the government is going to do in terms of ensuring the safety of communities that have been supported by the Safer Communities Fund.
The second question I have for the Attorney-General relates to respect at work support. I acknowledge the good work that the government has done in implementing the respect at work bill in full, and I support that. However, I have real concerns from the LGBTQ community that they are not covered by the respect at work legislation. The respect at work legislation has a very narrow definition in terms of sex and doesn't even reflect the full range of characteristics protected under the Sex Discrimination Act, including sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, pregnancy or relationship status. This means that the bill does not provide appropriate protection for the LGBTQ community. It also creates inconsistency in terms of what we are asking from businesses, who must already comply with antidiscrimination law which relates to all the protected characteristics under the Sex Discrimination Act. I know the Attorney-General is committed to supporting the LGBTQ community and I appreciate his words to that effect. I would like to understand how he is going to ensure that the LGBTQ community can get the benefit of the protection that has been allowed under the respect at work legislation.
My final question relates to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the proposed legislation for which is before parliament as we speak. Again I would like to acknowledge the government's good work in bringing a strong and robust NACC to the parliament; it is something that my community in Wentworth wholeheartedly supports. However, I am concerned with the oversight of this NACC and particularly the fact that the government of the day is able to appoint a commissioner, deputy commissioner and inspector on political or party lines if it wishes to, without any need to get support from across the parliament. I understand the government's desire to retain control of parliamentary committees. It's the way that things have always been done in this place. But, if May's election has told us anything, it's that things need to change. For the NACC bills, and the commission itself, to succeed, the parliamentary committee that oversees it must act and be perceived to act without partisan motive. This is particularly important when it comes to the committee's role in confirming the appointments of these people. I've heard the Attorney-General acknowledge that the commissioner's appointment is absolutely critical in terms of how the NACC will be perceived and how effective the NACC will be. And I believe that that appointment is so absolutely critical that it must not be seen to be politicised—even if that is only a perception. There must be a mechanism to get broader support across the parliament and to ensure that it is not seen as a political piece. The perception that this could be a political appointment could undermine the NACC from the start, and that would be a great travesty for the people who invested, and who are saying that we need to invest, in the quality of our democracy and in the institutions of our democracy to protect against bad actors. I will be moving an amendment in this space. I seek to understand, from the government's point of view, how the Attorney-General is going to ensure that the appointment of the commissioner cannot be partisan and bring the NACC into disrepute.
Attorney-General, I want to take you to something you mentioned in your opening remarks and also something touched on by the member for Wentworth. I was pleased to see in the October budget that $262.6 million has been set aside for the establishment and ongoing operation of the Albanese Labor government's National Anti-Corruption Commission. It's really important that this commission has the resources it needs to investigate referrals and complaints in a timely way.
I was also happy to see that there is funding provided for the NACC to undertake corruption prevention and education. The Labor government is committed to tackling corruption and restoring trust and integrity to federal politics. Obviously, it was a great day for Australian democracy when you introduced that legislation to establish a transparent and independent NACC, delivering on that core election commitment. It follows the unanimous report of the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation in supporting the bill. I'm looking forward to seeing that bill pass the House and move one step closer to becoming law early in December, hopefully, or very late in November.
Earlier this year, Australians had much less reason to hope that the country would see a powerful, independent and properly resourced anticorruption commission, because the Morrison government also committed to establishing an anticorruption commission but never actually delivered on that promise. On 13 December 2018 the member for Cook stood up with former Attorney-General Christian Porter to announce their plan for an anticorruption commission. They promised Australians, in public, that the commission would be given 'real resources and real teeth'. What we got, however, was a bill that never went beyond a draft and a model that integrity experts described as the weakest watchdog in the country, that would hide corruption and not expose it.
Obviously, the Morrison government was never serious about fighting corruption, which is why it never followed through on the promise made to the Australian people. The Morrison government's proposal was also woefully underfunded. In April this year Dr Catherine Williams, Research Director at the Centre for Public Integrity, said of the former government's funding package:
The Government committed to establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission 3 years ago. The lack of sufficient funding shows that the Government is not serious about delivering on its promise.
The Centre for Public Integrity also highlighted cuts made by the previous government to other integrity bodies, such as the Australian National Audit Office and the Ombudsman. Both of them are important, but I would suggest the National Audit Office is particularly so.
All that underfunding is emblematic of the Morrison government's tendency to hide from scrutiny and oversight. The Albanese Labor government takes such things seriously, demonstrated by the fact that the $262.6 million delivered in the October budget is almost $90 million more than the previous Morrison government allocated to its unlegislated commission. I congratulate the Attorney-General for setting up a commission with real powers, real funding and real teeth. My question is: how will the $262.6 million allocated in the October budget ensure that the commission has the resources it needs to track down and stamp out corruption in the Commonwealth public sector?
WOLAHAN () (): I have two questions for the Attorney-General, and noting the time, I won't use the full five minutes.
First, I note that I was one of the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation and thank the chair, Senator White, and the deputy, the member for Indi. I also note the fact that so many members of that committee were actually from the class of 2022. Some maybe said, 'Where's the experience?', but I think, in hindsight, it was really good. It was a fresh move. It was people who didn't bring any baggage from a previous life in this place, and I thought that was good.
Senator Shoebridge made the following point to many witnesses. He meant it in a positive way, Attorney-General, when he said, 'When drafting or reviewing this bill, when looking at your powers to publish a report, should we assume the worst, Attorney-General?' And he would always qualify that by not labelling you as the worst Attorney-General. Many witnesses would agree, of course, that it's a prudent thing when you're looking at a bill to assume the worst.
The point should also be made for the commissioner, or the inspector. In the end, we'll have amendments. We'll have debates in the House and the Senate. The act will give enormous powers to that person, and, over the life of the NACC, which may be very long, one day there will be a bad commissioner. One day there will be a bad inspector. It would be a good thing if we had the same level of consultation and bipartisanship in the appointment of that person. So my first question is: will you commit to engaging with the same level of cooperation that the committee did in appointing the commissioner, the deputy commissioners and the inspectors?
The second question relates to the consultation process and the time line we were given. When you look at the bill, the consequential bill and the explanatory memorandum, a lot of work went into those, and I commend those who were involved in the drafting, but it comes to 667 pages. When you look at the submissions—we had 140 submissions—they add up to 1,340 pages worth of submissions. A lot of effort went into many of them, and I thank those who made the submissions, but I reflect on the possibility that we might have had more time. Have we missed out on doing a more thorough job if we had been given through to the new year to do this task? So my second question is this: why did the government put a premium on a deadline, over making the bill the best that it could be?
I'll deal first with the matters raised by the member for Berowra, who I see has left the chamber without waiting for the answers. The member for Berowra raised some questions about the decision I made under section 71 of the Judiciary Act to end the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, and I have to say that his allegation that I did not explain that decision is an absurd one. I held a press conference at which I explained the reasons behind the ending of the prosecution of Mr Bernard Collaery. As I said then, and I'll say it again, it reflects the government's commitment to our national security and our commitment to our relations with our neighbours.
The government remains absolutely steadfast in our commitment to keep Australians safe by keeping secrets out of the wrong hands. As such—and I explained this at the time—I made an application to the ACT Court of Appeal to consider redactions to parts of its judgments prior to publication. That's the end of what I will say publicly about this. The longstanding practice of the government has been to neither confirm nor deny claims about intelligence matters. I will strictly adhere to that practice. I reject completely the absurd, ridiculous and, might I say, disgraceful suggestion made by the member for Berowra that the decision to end the prosecution of Mr Bernard Collaery had anything to do with the service of Mr Collaery as an independent member of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory, during which time he was for a time the Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory.
As to the other matter raised by the member for Berowra, which was the Montgomery case, it's a case that raised some important legal questions about the scope of the Commonwealth's power to make laws under the aliens power in the Australian Constitution. The previous Attorney-General brought that constitutional aspect of the case before the High Court and made submissions on that aspect of the case. The High Court had heard the matter in April 2022 and had reserved judgement on it before the election of the Labor government on 21 May. A ministerial delegate—I'll repeat that; a ministerial delegate—in the Department of Home Affairs overturned the decision to cancel Mr Montgomery's visa, restoring his visa, on 15 July 2022. In light of Mr Montgomery's visa being restored, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, who were the parties to the case in the High Court, considered it appropriate to file a notice of discontinuance. It was their application in the High Court which ended the appeal on 28 July 2022. The member for Berowra, who is claiming to be the shadow Attorney-General in this parliament, would be well advised to actually check some facts, check something about legal process and check something about the processes of the High Court before he seeks to raise the kinds of absurd questions that he wasted the time of this chamber with.
I thank the member for Moreton for raising the importance of access to justice in this place, including drawing attention to the very valuable Lighthouse Project in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Ensuring that people have access to justice is an absolutely fundamental and critical element of the rule of law. I'm very pleased at the limited but nevertheless additional funding that we've been able to provide in the October budget to a range of parts of the legal assistance sector.
I want to quickly turn to the member for Wentworth's questions, one of which went to the Safer Communities Fund. The Safer Communities Fund is something that I think had reached its 10th round by the time of the announcement in the last federal budget before the October budget. It was, of course, for grants to improve community safety, but the $50 million funding had not been announced, no grant round had been commenced and the funds remained unallocated. What's significant here is that the Auditor-General had found that applications to the Safer Communities Fund were not assessed in accordance with program guidelines, decisions were not informed by departmental briefings and reasons for decisions were frequently not recorded. We are actively looking at options to make sure that communities continue to get the funding they need.
If I can, I will turn very quickly to the questions by the member for Menzies. I thank him for his work in the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation. I can assure him that there will be merit based appointment processes for all of the National Anti-Corruption Commission appointments. The arrangement that we have in this bill is for a relatively unprecedented membership of a committee of 12, with six government members, four opposition members and two crossbench members. There's only one other example of such a structure among the parliamentary committee structures.
It's entirely appropriate that the appointments be made by the government, but we are providing for an approval process of the important positions at the National Anti-Corruption Commission. I would really seek to assure the member for Menzies and all those interested in the National Anti-Corruption Commission about the process. It's a relatively unusual one in the Australian political context, in having not quite what one would call confirmation hearings, like they do in the Senate of the United States Congress. Nevertheless, having an approval process for a government appointment is a relatively unusual thing. I think it will achieve the purpose that we want of providing an assurance to the Australian people that the very best people are being appointed to these positions.
Any government in the future that seeks to make a partisan appointment is going to cop criticism from the committee. That's the way this process should work. If the government sought to abuse the appointments power by making a totally partisan appointment, intending, if you like, to thwart or abuse the processes of the National Anti-Corruption Commission itself, it would do so at its peril.
I am very much hoping that we will have the support of the entire parliament for the model that we have brought forward. I do believe that the bill we have brought to the parliament, with the 11 government amendments that I've given notice of, is going to be the very best model of an anticorruption commission, based, as it is, on learning from the mistakes that have been made and some of the deficiencies that have been identified in the eight state and territory anticorruption commissions that we've seen established over the last 30 years.
I thank the member again very much for his participation in this parliament's processes.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 13:38 to 16:00
It's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in this debate, this consideration in detail, on the budgetary measures connected to the Home Affairs portfolio. In my opening remarks I will concentrate particularly on those matters within my responsibility, although of course, as members would be well aware, the appropriations also go to those matters directly within the remit of the Minister for Home Affairs and also to those of Senator Watt in his capacities in the national emergency management space that fall within the Home Affairs portfolio, a space which obviously has been of particular relevance as much of the country has been working its way through a series of weather events. Our thoughts are with those on the front line of that as we consider the significant reforms that Minister Watt has overseen, many of which they supported by appropriations contained in the bill that is before this consideration in detail process. I look forward to exchanging with members of the opposition and members of the crossbench, should they seek to participate in this conversation, and I know that there are government members who have issues of concern to them they wish to raise.
For this government, and particularly in respect of my responsibilities, this budget delivers on some longstanding concerns we have had about elevating the role of immigration. There are a number of investments which put into the budget in the most meaningful way these longstanding aspirations about seeing immigration as a core function of the national government. Indeed, it is a function that really is about nation-building and a function that, sadly, has had to be substantially rebuilt following nearly a decade of neglect under the members opposite.
We see this neglect particularly in the area of visa processing, where staff had been dragged down through cuts, cuts and more cuts, leaving us unprepared for the challenge that lay ahead of our nation as borders reopened, with very significant consequences for our economy and even more significant consequences, I might say, for those many Australians with deep family connections to people outside this nation. Rebuilding that capacity with very significant investments has been a significant focus for the government and a task that we have approached with urgency. As I told the House not that long ago, since 1 June we have dealt with 3.4 million visas. We would not have been able to do this and reduce the processing time for some key visa categories, and I think particularly of some of the temporary skilled visas, which were taking in some cases months to be processed previously. The time is now down to days. That is down to a couple of things: firstly, the quality of work that is being done by the wonderful women and men who work in the home affairs department and, secondly, the additional resourcing that has been put before them, hiring more people and offering up the opportunity for more over time to speed this process. There is more work being done, which is being facilitated by investments contained in the budget in this regard. These investments are critical in and of themselves, but they are also the basis upon which a wider reform agenda can be prosecuted. These investments are in and of themselves critical, but they are also the basis upon which a wider reform agenda can be prosecuted, and I'm very pleased that, as one of the many outcomes of the government's very successful Jobs and Skills Summit—
Well, the Leader of the National Party had a different take than the shadow minister for immigration on this matter. Perhaps he's scoffing because he was pretty keen for an invitation. Perhaps he wasn't allowed to come, and—
An honourable member: I was glad in the end you refused.
I was very keen for the shadow minister for immigration to come. I always enjoy my interactions with the member for Wannon and I'm very disappointed that he was denied the opportunity to participate—denied the freedom to participate in that important forum. But a critical outcome of that forum was Minister O'Neil, the Minister for Home Affairs, announcing a migration review. It is important, because it has been a generation since we've had a hard look at our migration system and how it can serve our national interest. This review, headed by three eminent Australians—Martin Parkinson, Joanna Howe and John Azarias—will provide us with the basis, hopefully, to land a broad consensus around the purpose of our system and then to build upon the groundwork that is contained in this budget, which has got our system moving once again.
As the shadow minister for home affairs, child protection, and the prevention of family violence, I can tell you that Labor's first budget has been lacklustre for some pretty crucial policy areas, like cybersecurity and cybercrime. With the change of government came a significant gutting of the Home Affairs portfolio, and I note that the minister who is here today has responsibility for immigration and citizenship. That portfolio area largely remains unchanged, but the rest of Home Affairs has been absolutely gutted, so that it is just a shell of what it was previously. But, leaving that aside, what we've actually seen in the rest of the portfolio responsibilities in relation to cybersecurity is somewhat disappointing. I say that in the broadest sense and, clearly, commenting on the actions or lack of action by the minister responsible.
I am absolutely without doubt that millions of Australians would prefer their information to be kept private, and they are concerned about the extent of the cybercrimes that are happening and the ability of the minister responsible to step up, face the public, talk about what the issues are and disclose what plans, if any, she may well have to deal with cybersecurity. Quite frankly, it's becoming quite the pattern of behaviour from the minister responsible for cybersecurity—and what's left of Home Affairs outside Immigration, which is not very much—that we don't get much of a response and that any response that we get is quite tardy and incomplete, to say the least.
We actually did try to assist, as a coalition, with putting some ransomware legislation into the House. Unfortunately Labor saw fit to use its numbers to ensure that that was not progressed so, at this point in time, there is no ransomware legislation that the government is progressing, which clearly leaves consumers in Australia at a disadvantage. We were very clear on ransomware and how important it was. We introduced the legislation earlier in the year so it would've been easy for the government to have proceeded just to pass that legislation, given that they had indicated that they were prepared to pass it in the last parliament. I remain open to progressing that legislation because I think it's clearly important for the community to make sure that Australia is as prepared as it possibly can be.
Legislative solutions are, clearly, a government responsibility. There was a very sobering annual threat assessment from the Australian Cyber Security Centre that documented our deteriorating cyberenvironment and recognised cyberspace as a leading domain for warfare and crime, including extortion, espionage and fraud. Recognising the evolving threat in cyber, the coalition embarked on the biggest investment in further hardening our cyberdefences with over $10 billion for REDSPICE through the Australian Signals Directorate. To meet these challenges, it is absolutely critical that project REDSPICE is delivered in full. It was funded in the March budget, and REDSPICE is the single most significant investment to transform the Australian Signals Directorate's offensive and defensive capabilities.
During our time in government, the Home Affairs portfolio spearheaded several significant cybersecurity improvements, directly benefitting all Australians, including by supporting industries to grow online by launching the National Plan to Combat Cybercrime, cracking down on cybercriminals by funding a dedicated AFP led cybercrime centre and securing landmark reforms to national security legislation to better protect our critical infrastructure. These improvements are very broadly recognised as world-leading changes and legislation introduced by the government at the time in respect of critical infrastructure. We made all Australians safe through the passage of important legislation to revolutionise the way Australian agencies investigate and prosecute cybercrime. There were a number of other pieces of legislation that were introduced and operationalised during the time the former government was in place.
My question for the government is: will you guarantee further funding for offensive and defensive cybercapabilities and expedite the passage of new ransomware laws to harden Australia from the escalating cyber threat?
The immigration and visa-processing system is broken. I hear this every day from people right across my electorate of Bennelong, one of the most diverse electorates in the country. Every day my office receives countless emails and calls from people who have been waiting for years and who are caught up in an outdated system and broken system. I've heard story after story at mobile offices on the street. After 10 years of neglect and delay, I'm glad to see our government is finally taking action, because those opposite did nothing. That is what they do. They make systems of government unusable and inaccessible. That is what they did to our immigration and visa-processing system. Further, they wind up the tired old dog whistling--the disgusting and dangerous rhetoric. It's time that we start to think more compassionately and creatively about those who want to call Australia home, just like my parents and their parents did.
Migrants make our country stronger, they make our country richer, and they make our country safer. Those opposite need to hear this over and over and over until it's seared in their brain! I'll keep on saying it in this place for as long as I'm here. Migrants make our country stronger, richer and safer. I'll say it again! Migrants make our country stronger, richer and safer. Our country was built on the back of migrants. Our economic miracle was built on the back of migrants. And just like the thousands of constituents in Bennelong, my family story is no different.
There are people in my electorate like Sam. He has visited me twice to update me about his situation. He migrated to Australia from Nepal 13 years ago. Since 2016, he has been stuck on continuous visas. He was unable to work or study, and, in 2019, he was granted work rights on his visa, but he's still unable to study. Despite living in Australia for 13 years, despite contributing to our economy, despite starting a family here, he is still unable to access government services that most Australians can, and he still doesn't have permanent residency. Recently, he suffered a spinal injury on the job and will be unable to continue in his current job. He sits in a hospital bed right now, having had his spinal surgery yesterday, knowing he won't be able to undertake the study he needs to retain and get another job. He's worried about whether he'll be able to support his family.
Jessamin from Epping applied for a contributory parent visa almost five years ago. She paid $50,000 for the privilege. She tells me that her 71-year-old mum's application hasn't even been assessed. Jessamin and her brother are Australian citizens. They simply want to look after their mum. At 71 years old, another three, four or five years in this system might mean the difference between this family spending quality time with their mum or not.
These are just two of hundreds of stories from many residents in Bennelong. They want and deserve certainty, and they deserve to live here and feel part of our vibrant community. I'm so thankful that one of the first actions of this government was to start fixing this broken system left behind by the former government. There have been 300 additional staff appointed in visa processing roles since May 2022. Almost 200 staff have been allocated to visa teams for regular overtime and rolling recruitment. An additional $36.1 million will go to support a surge workforce to fix the crisis. More than 3.4 million visa applications have been finalised since 1 June, including more than 2.9 million applications that involve applicants who are outside Australia.
That's before we even get on to the benefits and outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit, like increasing the number of permanently skilled and family visas to $195,000. That's an increase of over $35,000. We will also have pathways to permanent residency. For residents who come and work here and for their families, that's a path that they deserve to have, just as it has been in the past, because—I'll say it again—migrants make our country richer, stronger and safer. I thank the minister for his amazing work in this role to date. I look forward to seeing what more he can do.
I've got a series of questions that I was hoping the immigration minister might be able to answer. We're now six months into this term of government, and I would like to know whether the minister is embarrassed that, after nine years in opposition, he's had to appoint a panel to develop an immigration policy because in nine years in opposition the government did nothing. If that's not the case, could he, this afternoon, detail his immigration plan? Would he, in particular, tell us: How many young skilled migrants will be included in the additional 35,000 permanent places? How many temporary skilled visas have been issued in the last six months? How many permanent skilled visas have been issued in the last six months? What is the make-up of the individual categories of those permanent visas and those temporary visas that have been issued in the six months?
Can the minister also explain: it's understandable that this could be occurring, but what is the department doing given that there are 300 new people now processing visas and they don't seem to have been given the adequate training that's necessary to be able to deal with all the errors that they are making? Some of those errors have very, very severe consequences for those who have applied for visas. For instance, once your visa has been rejected and you cannot come to Australia, then you also cannot apply to go to other countries. It would seem to me that some sort of review system needs to be put in place and put in place very quickly if we are going to be able to deal with this.
Would the minister also be transparent with the Australian people? He talked with great fanfare about his jobs summit and the announcement out of that of the 35,000 additional permanent places for one year. What is going to happen the following year and the year after that? Will those 35,000 permanent places continue, or is this something he has outsourced to the panel because he didn't have a migration policy when he came to government? It would be very good to know about that.
Also, will the minister adopt all the recommendations of his panel, or will he select some of the recommendations from his panel? It would be very good if he could tell the Australian people, having set up the panel to devise an immigration policy for the government, whether that will become the immigration policy for the government, or will he cherry-pick according to his own plans? The Australian people also want to know: what are your plans when it comes to temporary protection visas? What are your plans when it comes to SHEVs? Are you going to be fully transparent with the Australian people as to what the numbers are and how you will be dealing with these issues? When will you do that? There are a lot of people wanting to know the details around this, which we are yet to see.
The government has used smoke and mirrors to try and play around with the actual allocation of money that has been given to the department for visa processing. The government has made a huge fanfare about the additional resources that have been put in place. There are still over 700,000 visas waiting to be processed. Will the allocation of those new resources be a one-off, or is the government going to ensure that those positions stay in place? Because there are 700,000 people waiting to have their visa processed. What the Australian people are looking for, Minister, is a plan. They have been waiting nine years to see this government have a plan for immigration. They haven't seen it yet. You've outsourced it, but it would be good if you could explain a little bit of the detail of what your policy for immigration is.
Ever since the election of the Albanese Labor government, in May, we have made the overhaul of our immigration system one of our top priorities. I am pleased to see such progress in this space after only six months of hard work by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, and many others of this government. I am personally thankful to the minister for always making time to hear my thoughts on the immigration system, particularly concerning matters about the humanitarian, partner and many other visas that affect my community.
In particular, the Afghan community in my electorate of Holt has been extremely affected by various visa issues for over a decade, and this situation was intensified by the fall of Kabul in August of last year. I am proud that Australia has committed $141 million for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan from September 2021 to December 2024. This includes $20 million for displaced people within Afghanistan and neighbouring countries hosting Afghan refugees. I know this government shares the concerns of our Afghan community groups at reports of displacement within and surrounding Afghanistan. I know this specific investment, in helping to secure the safety of these displaced people, is an important one.
In addition to the material support, I am pleased the government has allocated 26,500 places in our humanitarian program to Afghan nationals, and since the tragic fall of Kabul, over 8,000 permanent humanitarian visas have been granted to Afghan nationals. It is critical that Australia continue to support our Afghan friends as they supported us and the wider coalition forces. Our financial and humanitarian actions show our commitment to those Afghans and their families who are fleeing Taliban rule. No one, particularly the women of Afghanistan, should have to live in fear and as second-class citizens, and I am glad Australia is playing our part on the global stage in welcoming them with open arms.
In a further show of our commitment to this community, just a few days ago the government announced the cancellation of ministerial Direction 80. This is welcome news to my Afghan community, and indeed, everyone across Australia. The ministerial direction, cruelly put in place by the former government, shamefully put Afghan-sponsored visa applications at the bottom of the pile if the visa holder entered Australia as an unlawful maritime arrival. The cancellation is in stark contrast to the former government, which let the visa tray pile up for over one million applications and left families unable to be reunited, only providing false hope that things would get better. Well, things did get better, but only under the new Labor government. It is a further example of our commitment to convert current holders of temporary protection and safe haven enterprise visas onto permanent visas. This action gives certainty to those who have been on these visas. Many of them have been here for nearly a decade. These people have been already assessed as needing Australia's protection, and it only makes sense to make this permanent. It is the right thing to do.
Further to that, those on TPVs and SHEVs work, pay taxes, start small businesses, employ other Australians and contribute to their communities in various ways, be it through charity, animal welfare or environmental work. This is just a small list of things that they do. These working and contributing members of our community should be allowed to get on with their lives and live in peace, just like the rest of us.
It is a smart economic decision. Through this action, we will stop spending countless taxpayer dollars on reassessing their visas every three to five years. This government strongly believes that we as a society can have strong and guarded borders whilst also being compassionate to our friends in need and doing our part as a global citizen. I praise the government for these necessary changes.
I'm going to go ahead with a couple of questions for the immigration minister. They're not too difficult, so I'm hoping he can give me some answers. Firstly, is the Safer Communities Fund now a responsibility under Home Affairs or Attorney-General's? It was obviously cut in the budget. If there's going to be a new funding model, which we read about in media reports, to replace the Safer Communities Fund program, again, will that fall under Attorney-General's or under the Home Affairs department? And, in particular, would it also cover, as in the former government, high-risk youth? There was a stream for high-risk youth and there was a stream for infrastructure, in particular, places of worship. Again, for the immigration minister's benefit, it's about the Safer Communities program: where will that sit, and what will the funding model look like?
Will there be other grants available for multicultural communities in general? We also had festival grants delivered under the previous government. They haven't actually hit the ground so I'm interested to know where they're up to.
Finally, when it comes to OMARA, the Office of Migration Agents Registration Authority, will the minister be looking at putting in place an independent commissioner to overlook the immigration agents and the illegal operators? This was something in my last role in government as the assistant minister that was signed off to the department to put models in place.
The reason I raise these questions is that in the budget, the new government, Labor, announced a redirection of $50 million in October 2022. Round 7 for the Safer Communities program would have previously been in the 2022 budget. The $50 million would have funded the previous coalition government's commitments under the Safer Communities Fund. I make the point, the grants hadn't been allocated but the money was actually there to be used.
To give the minister an idea of the importance of infrastructure funding—I'm sure he's very aware—the reason this was brought in was after the awful terrorist attacks in Christchurch. The round 6 funding had $10 million in total. That funding also went to mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, Sikh gurdwaras, churches and synagogues. I note the Labor Party took this to the Auditor-General when, in the Auditor-General's recommendations, he recommended that for these small minority groups, in particular when it comes to, say, the Hindu communities and the Buddhist communities, making a special round of grant funding for them.
The other thing which greatly concerned me is some of that $50 million of funding would have gone towards a program we put in place for high-risk youth. This is the youth who are falling out of school or involved in gangs or crimes. I see the member for Holt there; she might be very familiar with the Hope Australia Soccer Academy, where they're looking after a number of migrants from African communities and Afghan communities. The total funding we put in place in round 6 was $120 million. It was completely oversubscribed. Included in those rounds, which is important for all members here, was $18.3 million to Indigenous youth initiatives. It was really targeted funding at places of worship and also high-risk youth.
We need to do everything we possibly can to protect and support the youth and stop them going down the wrong path, dropping out of school et cetera. That's something which has greatly concerned me. I know when I've spoken to members of the various Indian communities, the Hindu community, the Sikhs and even the Sri Lankan community, they have been very concerned that this funding has been cut. So I urge the government to reconsider the Safer Communities Fund as a matter of urgency, and to not wait until next year's budget but to get something out earlier so that people will actually know what will be offered in the program.
I'm grateful for the contribution of members so far. Obviously a very large number of questions have been raised. I think the member for Wannon probably broke a record for consideration in detail. I'm very flattered that he feels I can go through so many issues in such a quick—
Some I will, but this is a serious process, and we take very seriously the consideration in detail of the budget and related matters by members. I will work through as many of them as I can.
He asked a number of questions around visa processing to date under the government, and I'm very pleased to advise him that the number in respect of skilled permanent is 50,000; temporary, 48,000; partner, 18,000; working holiday, 95,000; and student, 195,000. So we are making very considerable process in these categories, I'm sure he will be pleased to know. I actually did have the opportunity to visit Colac, in his electorate, where the demand for—
Actually, I think you might want to withdraw that. I did not. I did not do that. I met with local businesses with the local candidate. You should think about that, mate. You really should.
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I will go through, as far as possible, the questions the member for Wannon asked. He made some frankly bizarre remarks about the state of our policy framework vis a vis the past nine years, which, from someone who sat around the cabinet table, is shocking and frankly appalling. You were an architect of the mess that we are trying to clear up. You were not a principal architect but a significant one, and you should accept your share of responsibility for the mess of a decade of neglect. Take responsibility for the cuts.
I am particularly offended by the remarks and the insinuations you made against the staff of the home affairs department and the allegations you made about their decision-making. I think those are not remarks that should be made lightly. They should not be made lightly. I am very proud of the work people do in all the areas in the department for which I have some responsibilities. I think all of us in this place should stand up for the women and men who work in the Australian Public Service. The work we have asked people to do in a number of areas in this department—including those areas for which the shadow minister for home affairs has responsibility—is hard work. It's really important work in the national interest. We should recognise and respect that and not make the sort of allegations that the member just made.
An honourable member interjecting—
You have had five minutes and you've asked probably 15 or 20 minutes in that. You've interjected throughout. You should take this process seriously, Shadow Minister, and you should take your responsibilities seriously. I think you do understand how the visa system operates, not least because you are a member of parliament—and you've been a cabinet minister for a large component of that time. You know very well the framework which operates under the act and the regulations. If you don't, perhaps you could ask the shadow minister for home affairs, who is across these issues. I really think you should be careful in making some of these remarks.
If you want to know what Labor's policies are you can look at our platform. It was debated publicly and has been available online for quite some time. You can have regard to that. You can also have regard to the decisions which are set out in this budget, which inform the priorities that we have put forward in the national interest in responding to the challenges that are before us.
The thing is that in so many of these areas there needn't be any partisan rancour or division, because it's so obvious that getting our visa system moving is in the national interest. It's something that businesses have been crying out for. It's something that families have been crying out for. What we see from the opposition is, yes, to criticise where you need to but to recognise there is work to be done in the national interest and to have some regard for that but particularly, in criticising me, not to take cheap shots at public servants.
Many in North Sydney were disappointed to see the limited improvement in our human rights expenditure in the federal budget. Central to this disappointment was a lack of action in the Home Affairs portfolio. If we view the federal budget as an indication of the government's priorities and values, then I'd have to lament on behalf of the people of North Sydney that the humane treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum has been abandoned by this government. Key Labor Party commitments have not been met within this budget. We saw no budget allocated for increasing the humanitarian intake, abolishing temporary protection visas or safe haven enterprise visas, or providing appropriate social services like work and study rights for people seeking asylum.
Specifically in the context of the appropriation bills, I'd like to put four questions to the minister for immigration. Firstly, to the $632 million allocated this financial year for offshore processing, arguably this is wasteful spending on a cruel and inhumane offshore-processing system for asylum seekers. Since Australia's offshore detention centres were reopened by the Gillard government in 2012, successive governments have spent just on $11.7 billion on offshore detention and processing arrangements. As noted by regular Kaldor Centre analysis, each year the actual expenditure on offshore processing is far higher than the cost originally budgeted. To spend so much to punish so few is financially irresponsible and ultimately, arguably, immoral, and it is the view of many in North Sydney that Australia's treatment of asylum seekers is in urgent need of reform.
Disappointingly, the Albanese government is spending $150 million more a year than the Morrison government did on holding refugees offshore. According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, this increase in spending alone could fund refugee support services for the next four years. Minister: how does the government justify the additional $150 million for the cruel offshore-processing regime, and did the government consider redirecting this expenditure to fund refugee support services?
Secondly, there is an urgent need to restore a basic financial safety net for people seeking asylum. Communities across Australia are witnessing the impacts of destitution and homelessness amongst bridging visa holders as a direct result of changes in 2017 to eligibility for the Status Resolution Support Services, or SRSS, program. The juxtaposition between the Treasurer's claim that this is a wellbeing budget for all and the record low levels of the SRSS is jarring. Can the minister please provide reasons for the deliberate exclusion of visa holders from social support services.
Thirdly, no additional places within the refugee and humanitarian programs were announced in the budget. Refugee resettlement to Australia dropped to a 45-year low in the 2021 period, and lost places have never been restored, despite the UNHCR identifying an ever-increasing number of refugees in urgent need of resettlement. Yet in this budget, the number of humanitarian places remains at 13,750, with an additional 16,400 places over four years for Afghan refugees. Additional places for community sponsorship were not included in this budget. This is despite Labor's pledge to expand the humanitarian program progressively to 27,000 per year with an additional 5,000 places for community sponsorship. I ask the minister: when will the Labor Party fulfil its commitments to expand the humanitarian program and end temporary protection, and why was this not funded in this budget? How can we find hundreds of millions of dollars to continue to harm refugees offshore yet find nothing for those who need our care and support?
Finally, I turn to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The AAT is responsible for the review of administrative decisions made by the Australian government, including the applications of people seeking asylum, and it is in crisis. Waiting times for refugees average nearly five years, and there is a backlog of over 30,000 applications. The budget acknowledges the increasing backlog and that it has not met its target of reducing cases, but the government has failed to commit any additional resources to the AAT or to the Immigration Assessment Authority, which is an independent authority within the AAT that is responsible for conducting the fast-track process. When will the government adequately fund the AAT?
I thank the member for North Sydney. She has raised four very significant issues, and I think it'd be fair to say that we as the government share the principles she's expressing but have found the need to give expression to them differently. I should say at the start that the issues relating to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are not within the purview of the Department of Home Affairs. I say to my dear friend, the member for La Trobe, who was very interested in getting an answer to his questions about safer communities, that, similarly, he could perhaps raise those matters with the Attorney-General if he's so determined to get to the bottom of those issues.
But on those questions, let me also say that this budget reveals that, when it comes to support for multicultural communities, this is a government that keeps its promises. The election commitments that we made are enacted within them. Many reflect the deep understanding that the Australian Labor Party and the Albanese government have for the particular needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities and, in fact, their recognition of many of the aspirations that the shadow minister, the member for La Trobe, set out, but they give effect to them in a transparent and considered manner.
You raised three other issues. The government does not share your view when it comes to the offshore processing arrangements. I should make clear to the House that, with the securing of the transfer of six people from Nauru to New Zealand to resume their lives, the Minister for Home Affairs delivered very significant and long-overdue news. I remind everyone that this really was something that could've happened in 2012 when the New Zealand government made that generous offer. There have been 10 wasted years and untold damage. My friend the Minister of Home Affairs is getting on with the task of dealing with that now.
The issues around the safety net are important issues and, on my part, they have been the subject of intensive consultation with the sector to ensure that those matters that are set out in Labor's platform are given effect to, and are given effect to properly. There is a lot of work to be done in that regard to make sure that we get it right. Similarly, you talk about this budget not dealing with the issue of the commitments that our government made in respect of progressively, as you say, increasing the intake. This is absolutely critical. But, again, it's critical that we get it right, and it's critical that, when we resettle people, we give them every support they need. That requires giving proper consideration to those arrangements which enable someone who comes here on the humanitarian pathway to get everything they need to begin a life here, to feel that they belong and to be supported to make the contribution that we know they can make—indeed, to recognise, as the member for Bennelong said, that refugees, as do all migrants, make our country richer, stronger and safer.
We are going to work through a plan—as we have been doing, in the course of consultations with the sector—to get to 27,000 per annum. Of course, we are going to deal with the commitments we have made around community sponsorship and, importantly, with the commitments for community sponsorship places to be additional to those supported by the government program directly. We are doing so right now. I'll also take this opportunity to advise the House that, under our government, the refugee and humanitarian program is non-discriminatory. That was not the case for the last nine years, which is utterly shameful. We will accept humanitarian entrants on the basis of need, as advised by the UNHCR. That is the proper course, and it always should have been the proper course for any responsible Australian government, particularly now that—I know the member for North Sydney knows this well—we are living in a world where there are more people forcibly displaced than at any time in human history, and we have to face the reality that climate change and its impacts are going to make this challenge even worse. As Minister Bowen has been doing in respect of our international engagement on climate change, doing the right thing at home is not only the right thing to do morally and not only the right thing to do in the national interest; it is a vital thing to do if we are to play a meaningful role in a constructive international process that makes a difference in dealing with this international humanitarian crisis.
This is something that I think Australians would like to see us do. We see that in the response to the awful circumstances in Afghanistan, which were touched on by my friend the member for Holt. We see that in response to the crisis and the ongoing conflict brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We can do better. Under this government, we will do better.
I remind all members present that consideration in detail is a debate, and the call will be alternated between the government and non-government sides, as always. Even though this debate sometimes takes the format of question and answer, this is not question time. Ministers and government backbench members will be considered as speakers on the government side and should bear this in mind when they seek the call. Speakers are required to be relevant to whichever portfolio is being examined, but there is no requirement for direct relevance in respect to any responses.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
I'm proud to rise today as a minister in the Albanese Labor government to talk about our successful first six months in government and how our budget is delivering on our commitment to the Australian public and, in particular, those living in regional Australia.
Throughout these six months we have consistently delivered, putting into action our plans that the Australian people voted for. Our October budget was no different. It is responsible. It's solid. It's suited to the times we're in. But we know that these are challenging times. A substantial global slowdown, high inflation, rising interest rates and a succession of natural disasters are putting pressure on Australians and on our economy. Against this backdrop, we are still delivering cost-of-living relief in a targeted way. We're investing in a stronger and more resilient economy. We are doing what those opposite talked about a lot but failed to do, and we are beginning the hard yards of budget repair.
We can't clean up the mess overnight, but we are working every day to build a better future for Australians, no matter where they live. Like almost 30 per cent of Australians, I call regional Australia home. That's why I'm incredibly proud that our budget contains more than 760 initiatives for regional communities and regional industries. I know that our regional communities are not the same—they are as diverse as the people that call them home—but they face very similar challenges.
We have a vision for regional Australia, one where our regional communities benefit from all of our policies, whether it's increased jobs in the renewable energy sector, access to secure housing, better connectivity or strong, locally led solutions. Our vision looks beyond the election cycle. It looks beyond electorates and postcodes. After 10 years of rorts from those opposite, we are stepping up and prioritising fair and equitable funding for our regions.
Out budget has committed $1 billion over three years towards regional funding programs: the Growing Regions Program and the Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program. These programs will be delivered in a way that is fair, has integrity and is accountable. We know our local governments are front and centre in servicing our regional communities. As a former mayor, I know all too well the difference federal funding can make for our regional communities. I know that the difference between a regional community thriving and one just surviving goes well beyond efficient roads and rubbish. That's why this government has committed to re-establishing the Council of Australian Local Governments as an opportunity for ministers to hear directly from the local government sector about the issues impacting them. In addition to re-establishing the Council of Australian Local Governments, Labor is committed to putting local government on National Cabinet and on the Council on Federal Financial Relations once a year. I'm meeting with local government ministers this Friday, which will provide a platform for the states and territories to discuss the major challenges impacting local governments across the nations. All levels of government need to work together to help communities and implement their local solutions, and our government is committed to doing that in a fair and transparent way.
Over the last six months, I've met with multiple local government and regional development representatives from all parts of Australia to discuss regional needs. Right across our country now, our regional communities are in crisis due to flooding. My thoughts remain with those communities who are working as volunteers, councilworkers, emergency personnel and community on the ground, doing an incredible job day and night preparing, responding and cleaning up from these disasters. Sadly, it is often our regional communities who bear the brunt of natural disasters, which is why our government has committed to preparing our communities for future disasters through the Disaster Ready Fund, investing $1 billion on disaster risk, reduction and resilience.
Unlike previous governments, we understand that supporting regional Australia goes well beyond the basics of grant funding. We know that regional development and regional Australians deserve so much more than that. We need fast and reliable internet and good mobile phone connectivity, which is why the government are investing heavily in the NBN and mobile phone coverage so that rural and remote communities have access. We need affordable housing in our communities, which is why the government prioritised the Housing Australia Future Fund and the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee. We need good educational opportunities, and that's why the government are giving priority to regional Australians in those 20,000 additional Commonwealth supported places at university.
We know that at the heart of strong regional communities people are there. We need to make sure that our budget supports all Australians through skills and training, through Medicare, through the NDIS and through child care. We are committed to ensuring regional Australia is at the centre of our nation's growth and at the forefront of our agenda. We are a government that will leave no one behind.
I rise to call into question the focus of this federal government on regional communities, who are the backbone of Australia's wealth, food and fibre production. I raise this question because people who live in the country have had regional infrastructure ripped away by this Labor government. All evidence so far points to their lack of regard for the nine million people who call the regions their home.
This week, Labor's October budget will celebrate its first month of delivery. That is one month of evidence of Labor's ability to manage finances, industries and the economy and represent all Australians. Despite Labor's significant increased debt and funding for election promises, infrastructure in the regions seems the only significant budget saving committed. In fact, $9.6 billion was cut from regional infrastructure in the budget. That is $4.7 billion over the forward estimates. A hefty $7 billion over the forward estimates was cut from water projects, specifically for dams, including Hells Gates Dam, Dungowan Dam, Emu Swamp Dam, the Hughenden irrigation scheme and Wyangala Dam.
In Victoria, five projects under the Roads of Strategic Importance program have had $248 million slashed across the forward estimates. Outrageously, all five are on Mallee roads. The Labor government has put on hold the safety of the residents of Mallee by withdrawing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars of funding that we on this side had allocated to the Sunraysia Highway from Ouyen to Ballarat; the Murray Valley Highway from Robinvale to Echuca; the Western Highway from Stawell to the South Australian border; the Green Triangle region, incorporating the Henty Highway from Horsham to Victoria's southern ports; and the Calder Highway, connecting Mildura to Melbourne.
What Labor fail to understand is that these roads desperately need investment to improve major trucking routes where local families, grey-haired nomads in caravans and road trains coexist. Danger is written all over this decision to cut the funding. People's lives are at stake. Many of these roads have now experienced flooding. In fact, 11 out of 12 of my shires have floods. The potholes are worse. The shoulders have been eaten away by rising waters. Farmers struggle now to get their product to port, despite the fact that they have an annual economic output of over $14 billion. Because of the ineptness of the Victorian Labor government in delivering the Murray Basin Rail Project, farmers have no alternative but to put road trains on unsatisfactory but major highway systems. And this federal government is cutting future funding. It is not good enough.
In addition, Labor have scrapped the Building Better Regions Fund, turfing 815 community applications under round 6 of the fund in the process. They have also scrapped the Community Development Grants Program. So what does the infrastructure minister, Minister King, do when she is given the keys of funding? She replaces the Better Regions Fund and Community Development Grants Program with two new programs. Those two programs have a total and reduced budget of $1 billion, and no-one in my electorate has yet seen any guidelines for them. It amounts to less than half of what this federal government was able to find for their Victorian counterparts for a suburban rail loop in Melbourne. They found $2.2 billion to bolster Premier Daniel Andrews's chances in the state election this week. This is despite the fact that the Victorian Auditor-General said he was yet to see any economic rationale for it when the federal government committed funds to it. Labor like to say that Infrastructure Australia should approve large-scale projects such as the Suburban Rail Loop. They did not go through that process either.
Thankfully for those in the regions, though, Labor have retained the Stronger Country Communities program—at least for 2022-23; they have provided no money in forward estimates for future rounds. It is only a matter of time before we see this program axed by the Labor government. We know investments in infrastructure are a key plank in growing the Australian economy, but do Labor know that? Their actions have thrown communities across the nation into uncertainty and forced them to play the waiting game—waiting for a new pavilion at their local sporting club or waiting for valuable services to be built. (Time expired)
I'm thankful for the opportunity to speak on this portfolio area, which is so important to my electorate of Solomon—the capital of the north, Darwin; Palmerston; and Greater Darwin, the rural area—but also to the whole of the Northern Territory and, of course, to our nation. It is how we are going to grow our nation by having the infrastructure to support that growth and our economic prosperity and our national security into the future.
The Albanese government's first budget, which we are discussing today, has been an absolute bonanza for the Northern Territory. I don't say that to boast, but we are proud that our federal government has seen the incredible potential in the Territory. It won't be magically realised; it needs investment, and that's what we've committed to in this budget by committing $2.5 billion—that's with a 'b'—to critical infrastructure in the Northern Territory. It is one of the largest spends in any jurisdiction, but as I continue you'll see why.
Of that money, $1.5 billion is going towards enabling infrastructure at the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct. I do acknowledge the bipartisan support for that project. This development is the centrepiece of the Northern Territory's moving towards a much more sustainable economy and of our nation's using the Territory's abundant natural resources, such as solar and the critical minerals that are vital, to helping us build lithium batteries and solar panels as we move to a net zero emissions future and a clean energy economy. What we want to do at the Middle Arm precinct is to build a renewable energy hub.
Sun Cable will be the world's largest solar power project. A lot of people ask about economic development and our renewable energy future. In the Territory we've got lots of land and we've got lots of sun. Put those two things together and what Sun Cable is talking about is approximately 30 kilometres by 30 kilometres of solar array, taking that power and using batteries not only to look after the Northern Territory and the Top End's power needs but also to export Territory sunshine to Singapore and, in the future I'm sure, other nations. That is what the Middle Arm hub is going to support. Green hydrogen and ammonia, the foundations for cleaner fuel, will also be manufactured there. We also want a data storage centre there, powered by solar with those batteries and serving global markets.
Now, it will not be a petrochemicals hub, as the NT Chief Minister has recently confirmed. As I have stated, it is going to be a multiuse facility. In fact, Chief Minister has confirmed that, to date, there haven't been any petrochemical proponents seeking to be part of Middle Arm.
We are deeply committed to protecting the environmental health of our beautiful Darwin harbour. More than 200 studies have already been undertaken by the NT government in relation to the Middle Arm precinct and at this very preliminary stage that is a lot. But there is more to come. NT and federal industry is being responsible and is taking a very responsible role because they know that for this sustainable precinct to thrive and survive we need to meet environmental standards.
I'm very happy with the investment in the north. It's important for the nation, not just the Territory, and I'm hoping to be part of a government that understands the incredible potential of the north. That's why we're spending a lot more as well on roads infrastructure and logistics hubs to get our product to market.
Australia's 880,000 kilometres of road network underpins almost every aspect of our lives, for no-one more than the eight million people who call regional Australia home. From getting kids to and from school, to getting produce off the farm and on to market, our road network is vital for our daily lives and for the national economy. A good road network is especially important in regional and rural Australia where agricultural outputs result in a GDP contribution disproportionate to the size of our population. Good regional infrastructure—be it road, rail, energy or communication technology—underpins the efficient movement of ideas. It funds energy, people and goods and is critical to competing in a global market.
In that context it is of course disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that to fund Labor's election promises the government has taken a knife to infrastructure and regional development budgets. With larger than average harvest volumes expected this year and wetter conditions than normal, our road and rail networks are under real pressure and we need that investment. Instead, Labor has pledged $2.2 billion to the Suburban Rail Link project in metropolitan Melbourne, a project which today is being ridiculed. While I'm talking about ridicule can I turn to the federal Labor government's announcement of $10 million in my own state for regional development projects, situated at Jetty Road, Glenelg, and in Marion. You might want to know where those suburbs are. They're in metropolitan Adelaide. It is a capital city, but they're described by the minister in her press release as important regional infrastructure projects. What a joke! That $16 million would have been better off in a regional community. It might have done something for regional communities.
While I'm here, and it's consideration in detail, I thought I might ask the minister some specific questions. Minister, why have you taken the axe to $1.1 million from the forward estimates for black spot funding in South Australia? How did the Albanese Labor government come to the decision to reduce funding in South Australia for a program that saves lives? It is not reducing funding overall; I'll concede that. Funding goes up in her home state, but down in mine. These are projects that deliver real outcomes. They save lives. It's a disgrace to see that money cut from the budget. That's my first question.
My second question, Minister, is: why have you taken $1.1 billion—that's with a b, for those opposite, and referring to my friend's contribution earlier—of the promised funding for the North-South Corridor, which is the single largest and single most important project for South Australia, and moved it beyond the forward estimates? I won't describe it as a cut, but it has been pushed out. You are delaying the most significant infrastructure project for South Australia and you are putting it in the slow lane. Why are you doing that?
Now, I can't help myself; I have to refer to Senator Glenn Sterle. He's been in a bit of trouble lately. His language hasn't helped. But I want to take you back to before the last election, and I'm going to refer here to a broken commitment. We've got a few of those—275 other things. When he was, effectively, the shadow assistant minister for transport, what he said was that we would see $80 million be delivered straight up, through the Heavy Vehicle Productivity Plan, for truck stops. That's a very important project. He was talking to the Big Rigs publication and he thought maybe it wouldn't get a lot attention, but we found it. You would have thought, Minister, that 'straight up' means in the first year of your government. That's the inference. I mean, 'straight up' has got to mean 'year 1', right? So, Minister, while I accept there's an increase in the heavy vehicle productivity program in the forward estimates, where's the $80 million straight up? It's not straight up; it's over the forwards.
Also, Minister, can you tell us who the trucking representatives are going to be on the panel to provide you with that advice, because you've had six months and one day, and we still don't know who is going to be asked to provide you with that advice? I feel as though it's not just the North-South Corridor that's in the slow lane; we haven't even identified those people. So, Minister, can you please tell us why we are not seeing the $80 million spent in year 1, or straight up, to use Senator Sterle's language? And who is going to be on this panel and when are we going to know who they are?
Infrastructure is vital for the foundations of a nation. It's how we get to work. It's how we move millions of people rapidly to different parts of the country. It's how we ensure that our emergency services—our police, our fire service, our ambulance—can attend those who need them most. It is how we ensure the wellbeing and health of our people. It is how we promote inclusion and access for all. Infrastructure is community.
I want to thank the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, on all the work she has completed and continues to undertake to improve the vital foundations of our country, especially on the Central Coast. I want to particularly thank the minister and her team for meeting with my office and representatives from the Central Coast Council, including the administrator, Rik Hart; directors, Boris Bolgoff and Mel Smith; and executive assistant, Madeleine Bell. The constructive dialogue between us will mean better outcomes for the people of the Central Coast.
Infrastructure throughout the electorate of Robertson, over the past decade, but particularly over the last few years, has deteriorated significantly. Insufficient federal investment and unprecedented rainfall have led to significant proportions of our public infrastructure deteriorating or not being updated to meet the immediate needs of the community. This was an issue that was discussed on many occasions when engaging with the constituents of Robertson, and I would hazard a guess that this is an issue that is discussed with members of parliament right across this country.
Here are the primary issues on the Central Coast that were discussed: the state of local roads and local sporting and recreation facilities; large craters throughout our local road network; sporting facilities with amenities that are not fit for purpose; issues with the local road network causing chaos for drivers right across our region, meaning longer commute times, difficulty accessing vital services and damage to motor vehicles; local community sporting and recreation facilities with absent female change rooms, dilapidated toilets and common areas, no storage areas and major safety hazards. These are all of significant concern to the community. It was because of these conversations—the thousands of doors knocked and the phone calls made—that we committed to upgrading our local road infrastructure and sporting facilities in the electorate of Robertson.
The $40 million Central Coast Roads Package aims to upgrade some of the worst roads in our region, roads that have impacted and continue to significantly impact motorists and emergency services. Our government looks forward to engaging and working with the Central Coast Council on multiple priority projects as part of this package. A $30 million fund for the initial stage of the upgrade of Avoca Drive has been provided in the October budget, delivering on an election commitment. A detailed scope and delivery schedule will be determined in consultation with the NSW government. Avoca Drive is a known pinch point and the missing link between different parts of the NSW Central Coast, with congestion causing significant traffic when commuters are going to work and when parents and carers are dropping the kids off at school. Even emergency services are unable to pass because of the significant traffic volume.
Then there are upgrades to the Frost Reserve sporting facility, which has not been upgraded in decades and is now no longer fit for purpose, even though thousands of families use these facilities frequently. The project's intent is to construct a new amenities building at Frost Reserve to provide an area for members and teams within the surrounding community. The proposed upgrades for this facility will have a positive impact on sporting clubs, like the Kincumber Roos Football Club, and include female changing rooms and upgrades to the canteen. These upgrades are necessary, and they are essential. This is nation-building.
In my electorate we're fortunate enough to have not one but two exceptional regional universities—Charles Sturt University in Port Macquarie and Southern Cross University in Coffs Harbour. These institutions provide more than just tertiary education. They have evolved into community centres, providing services outside of the standard educational remit, and now are business hubs, meetings facilities and also health providers. Coffs Harbour's Southern Cross University had the opportunity and the vision to provide a holistic health campus that would not only act as a centre for learning but also relieve the significant pressures on the health system in the wider Coffs coast area. There are, as in many regional and remote locations, significant waiting lists for services such as occupational therapy, and this facility would have catered for those needs while providing a world-class education to regional students—clearly, a win-win.
The former coalition government had budgeted $27.5 million to see this through, as it answered many of the needs for the broader community in a cost-effective way. There would have been no need for costly land acquisitions or a tender process to secure the right management team for these services. It was a shovel-ready project. It had been meticulously planned by a trusted institution over a number of years. Stage 2 of the health campus would have provided a community health clinic with speech and voice labs, mental health and therapy rooms, rehabilitation and exercise studios, and consultation rooms. It would have catered for an additional 800 domestic students to be trained in the regions and likely stay in the regions to practice upon completion of their degree. But, unfortunately, despite our community needing this desperately, the Labor budget ripped it away.
In my electorate, we have relied on funding from programs such as the Building Better Regions Fund to provide capital for crucial large investment projects on the Mid North Coast, such as the world-class dementia village that is currently under construction in Port Macquarie. The funding provided $6.5 million in 2020 to the amazing facility, taking gold standard practices from the Netherlands and replicating them here in an Australian first, catering for a region with some of the highest rates of dementia per capita in the country.
The Building Better Regions Fund that supported a critical facility like this was labelled waste and pork-barrelling. When the announcement came that the Building Better Regions Fund had been slashed, every applicant in my electorate who had taken the time and, in some cases, spent a vast amount of money to apply for the last round reached out in disgust and despair. There were projects such as the Bellingen Shire Council sewerage works—and I appreciate that it might not have been a sexy project. During periods of heavy rainfall or coastal inundation, Bellingen's system overflows, leaching into natural water systems and creating waste and health concerns. This project would have resolved longstanding water contamination issues that had devastated the local aquaculture industry, increased industrial and commercial business opportunities and created the opportunity for increased investment and jobs, as well as assisted in addressing environmental issues.
I ask this new government: how will initiatives such as these be funded in the regions in the future? If this is the well-being budget, is it truly for the nation or is it just for metro areas? By reducing or slashing funds previously allocated to regional areas, how are they expected to cater for the influx of population that we continue to see? Perhaps this government can start an advertising campaign funnelling people who want to move to the regions into Labor seats, as they appear to be the only ones they are willing to support despite the fact they cover less than 10 per cent of my state in New South Wales.
The Albanese Labor government handed down its first budget. I'm pleased to say that it was a budget for the people in the Hunter electorate that is in the regions that were neglected for so long under the former government, who didn't care about the regions then and still don't care about them now. This is a budget that invests in the projects that Australians need to build a better future. It is a great budget for families, and it is a great budget for our nation.
I want to thank the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government for recognising the projects that really matter to the people of the Hunter that is in the regions. There is a lot in the budget for the people of the Hunter electorate, such as investments in infrastructure projects and many other projects that will benefit us all in the Hunter. Childcare costs are a huge issue for families. Our cheaper childcare policy will see 6,300 families in the Hunter electorate better off. There's also the extended paid parental leave, giving more time to families at that important time of life when they're welcoming a new baby.
The people of the Hunter electorate can also expect to see cheaper medicines, which will save them up to $450 per year, helping them with the cost of living. I was elected to be a strong voice for the Hunter, and this government has certainly heard me. This budget has delivered over $400 million of our election commitments right across the Hunter electorate, that is, once again, in the regions. The Muswellbrook bypass is a big-ticket item being delivered. The project will construct a New England Highway bypass of Muswellbrook, and the Albanese government has allocated $268 million for this bypass which, once again, is in the regions. The New England Highway is part of the Inland Sydney to Brisbane National Land Transport Network and a primary route for connecting the Upper Hunter with Maitland and Newcastle. Once again, it is in the regions. The highway currently passes right through the centre of Muswellbrook. It carries between 11,000 and 20,000 vehicles through the township each day, with about 13 per cent of them being heavy vehicles. The bypass will improve travel times by providing a free-flowing 100 kilometre per hour alternative route. This project is expected to support more than 1,800 direct jobs and also indirect jobs in the regions. The bypass will bring improved safety for all road users in the town centre, particularly in terms of heavy and light vehicle interactions, and it will improve the livability of the Muswellbrook area.
That's why we are also investing in the Muswellbrook town centre project. I was lucky enough to have the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government visit there last week. The project will help to better link the town's historic buildings and provide open spaces to host community and cultural events. It also includes a playground, pavilion structure, alfresco dining spaces, roads and car parks. We are also upgrading sporting and community facilities, with the Muswellbrook Olympic Park upgrade, the Muswellbrook preschool playgroup, an upgrade for the Singleton Alroy Oval precinct, and the Singleton Bulls rugby club amenities fit-out to finish off the women's change rooms to encourage more women in sport. These are much-needed upgrades to modernise the facilities and increase participation in sport, which is something that I'm very passionate about.
The minister also visited Cessnock where we showed her the Cessnock Regional Skate Park, the BMX facility at Carmichael Park and the Cessnock Goannas lighting upgrade. Lake Macquarie City Council will also receive funding for Mandalong Road upgrades—$56 million to be exact. There is money for a dredge for Lake Macquarie and a grouting fund. There is funding for Mums Cottage upgrades; for Urban River projects; for the Lake Macquarie North West Catalyst Area; and for the Edgeworth Eagles fencing and lighting.
Once again, I would like to thank the minister for coming down and seeing the benefit in helping out the regions of the Hunter Valley, as we've helped out many regions around Australia. Those opposite will continue to say that we don't help the regions, but only a Labor government cares for regions that have been left behind for the last decade by a disgraceful and unwanted government. Now we have got a government in that cares about people and cares about our regions.
I ask a question of the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Minister, in this budget, your government committed $1.5 billion in equity investment for the development of the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct in the Northern Territory. We know that opening the gas field between Katherine and Tennant Creek, the Beetaloo Basin, was the first cab off the rank for the previous government's critically condemned and electorally rejected gas led recovery. We have to remember that this funding for Middle Arm was not this government's idea. It was the member for New England who announced billions in funding for the Middle Arm precinct as part of the former government's five basins gas plan. This seems a peculiar name for an allocation of funding that we are now led to believe is not a subsidy for a gas plan. It has been very difficult to get a straight answer from anyone in this government about what this precinct is for.
The Tamboran CEO has promised that its acquisition of gas assets in the Beetaloo basin will 'bring significant employment and royalties to the Northern Territory'. Can we trust this promise? He has also said that Tamboran's fracking of the Beetaloo basin would be a net-zero gas project. This is like claiming to have invented a smoke-free fire. According to him again: 'Gas that will be extracted from Beetaloo will be necessary for a full range of industrial purposes at the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct near Darwin.' This includes ammonia and urea production for fertiliser, hydrogen production, energy-intensive manufacturing, power generation and LNG export. The UN chief, Antonio Guterres, recently said:
Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness. Such investments will soon be stranded assets—a blot on the landscape and a blight on investment portfolios.
Members of the critical minerals industry are very concerned that investors in critical minerals—investors making decisions about funding clean energy projects—will withdraw their investments if the precinct is powered by gas. They fear that this $1.5 billion in federal funding jeopardises the private investment we so desperately need to supercharge the critical minerals industry in Australia.
Climate scientists have been saying for years that the Northern Territory is highly vulnerable to climate impacts, particularly those from sea level rise given its low-lying coastal areas and its extreme tides. Repeated studies by independent bodies like the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have clearly shown that large parts of Darling Harbour, including Middle Arm, will be underwater well before 2100, possibly as early as 2050, even under projected low greenhouse gas emission scenarios. This leads a whole new dimension to the idea of stranded assets. This project has not yet been subjected to a full environmental impact assessment. My questions to the minister are: Do you respect the scientific reports of the CSIRO and the latest IPCC climate modelling, and give credence to their modelling about rising sea levels in the Northern Territory? If not, what evidence can you present to this parliament that this project does not pose serious health, climate and environmental risks to the people of the Northern Territory and beyond?
There are a number of questions that were asked throughout the debate, here, and I will try and answer as many of those as I can in the short period of time we've got left. I'd say, particularly to the member for Kooyong—and I'm really happy to facilitate this—this is a project of the Northern Territory government. It's really critical to put the Northern Territory economy onto a footing where it starts to get revenue to be able to provide services for the people of the Northern Territory. Without it, their budget is in huge trouble, and frankly, I really would encourage you to go and talk to them. I'd go and have a look at the project. The environmental approvals have, obviously, not been given yet. There is a process that has to be gone through, both from the state planning point of view and the federal point of view, and I will leave that, respectfully, to the planning and environment ministers to do. My job as the infrastructure minister is to look at where we can invest to help economies to grow. They've had already, as I understand it—having viewed the project myself—over 30 different expressions of interest from investors. The large proportion of those are from clean energy investors, but I really would encourage you to go and have a look and talk to them, and understand from the Northern Territory government's perspective why this is so critical to them for the future of the Northern Territory.
I do want to make a couple of points to those opposite. I think they were in government for so long that they've got to the point where they've failed to understand the difference between a decision of government and an election commitment. To the member for Cowper, particularly: in relation to the Southern Cross University, that was an election commitment. Whilst the March budget contained a measure for education infrastructure, no decisions of government had actually been taken as to where that funding would happen, let alone the money even having been appropriated in the budget. Senator McKenzie went around the country during the election campaign announcing this was how she would spend the money, if re-elected. She did that in my own community. My university was absolutely adamant and understood that that was an election commitment. I explained that to them. The member for Cowper clearly has not understood the difference between a decision of government and an election commitment.
I'm really proud of the commitments this budget makes to regional Australia. We are, in fact, increasing, over a 10-year period, money under the Infrastructure Investment Program for our regions, and we are increasing the number of projects that are across regional Australia as well. It really does go to the breadth and depth of our regions across the country, whether it is major projects in Victoria and Tasmania, in Queensland with the Bruce Highway, and along the Tanami in the Northern Territory, which I visited recently. These are hugely life-changing projects for many of the communities along the Tanami. This is what we're delivering through this budget.
We do know that there are significant problems with local roads at the moment. It is why, discussed during the election campaign and delivered through this budget, we've increased the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure fund by $250 million for regional, rural and periurban communities, taking this round up to $750 million. That will certainly go a long way to help many of the regional communities who are desperately looking to try and upgrade and improve their roads at the moment. We are investing $80 million to deliver heavy vehicle rest areas.
I'd say again to the member for Barker, who made some claims that the budget had delayed projects: projects are delayed. That is what's happening across the country at the moment; I don't know if he's noticed. The front page of his own newspaper in South Australia is clearly saying it. Projects are delayed, and they're delayed for a whole range of reasons, but one of them is that the previous government was so focused on getting press releases out, getting their pamphlets out and standing up there and saying, 'This is a media opportunity,' that they never committed enough money for half these projects. So we've got a significant problem in relation to actually getting these projects delivered because the previous government was so focused on the press releases and the rah-rah around them rather than on actually delivering them in the first place.
We also know that there are labour constraints and skills shortages. We've got significant problems. So the budget doesn't delay projects; projects are delayed, and we have had to align the funding in the budget with the actual delivery so that we don't have significant underspend in infrastructure, as we did under the previous government, of billions of dollars that we could not get out the door. That's billions of dollars we couldn't get out the door under the previous government that would have been employing people, flowing through regional economies and actually ensuring the economic growth of the future. I'm determined that we'll get the infrastructure investment pipeline and clean up the mess that has been left by the previous government. We've got a long way to go yet, but I'm very proud that this budget starts that process, commits more money to the regions and makes sure we have fair and equitable funding across all regions, not just those that the National Party holds.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
The Albanese Labor government is committed to investing in and supporting those most vulnerable within our community. We have a whole range of measures in this budget that provide some really important supports for some of the most vulnerable people right throughout the nation, particularly for women and children fleeing domestic violence, for our older Australians and for people with a disability.
This government is committed to ending violence against women and children, and in this budget we saw an investment of $1.7 billion over six years which focuses on prevention and early intervention activities. It includes a continuation of funding to support a range of responses and initiatives to support the new National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. This, very importantly, includes just over $169 million over four years to fund 500 new frontline workers to support women and children experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence right across the country.
Through some of those initiatives, I'd particularly like to talk about the national plan. In October, the federal government along with our state and territory colleagues officially launched the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. It outlined our shared vision to end gender based violence within one generation. The national plan is our government's strong commitment to 10 years of sustained action, effort and partnership across governments and the sector to work towards eliminating all forms of gender based violence within the country. Of course, the national plan is underpinned by prevention, early intervention, response, and recovery and healing. This plan is so vitally important.
We also have the recently established Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission, which will provide a formal mechanism for consultation with victims-survivors and work to create a supportive and structured approach to engagement at a national level. These voices will help to inform the priorities for policy, research and data collection. At the heart of this are victims survivors. They must be at the heart of the solutions. We know we can only find effective solutions—they can only be developed with people who have been most impacted by such violence. The new commissioner, Micaela Cronin, has recently been appointed. The commissioner will promote coordination across all state and territory jurisdictions in the sector to provide support and enable a system that works together and provides a much more holistic approach. The commissioner will also be able to monitor and look at the progress of the very important national plan. I note the multipartisan support for this government's actions when it comes to eliminating violence against women and children in one generation. I know that everyone in this parliament is absolutely committed to working together to that aim.
The commissioner's role is a very important one. Micaela Cronin brings a wealth of experience, particularly in the community services sector. Very importantly, Ms Cronin started her career as a crisis counsellor at a women's refuge. She also wants the voices of victims-survivors at the centre of her work and at the centre of what the commission does moving forward. It's very important to have this new national commission and commissioner. It's so important that we all send the strong message that this is on the national agenda and is very important to all of us.
On providing support for vulnerable people, our government is committed to providing support for older Australians, for our seniors, the people who built this nation. We have brought in a range of measures in relation to them, particularly to provide support to ease cost-of-living pressures. These include incentivising pensioners into the workforce, increasing the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card income test and incentives for pensioners looking to downsize their homes. The budget included measures to provide that assistance, particularly the 50,000 additional self-funded retirees having access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. That will make a huge difference to many older Australians.
We have many measures, including giving older Australians the choice and the flexibility to work, through the passage of legislation, which is really important, which means that people of age-pension age will benefit from an increase to the maximum work bonus. It is so vitally important for them. This government is committed to providing so much more support for all of our vulnerable Australians.
I commend the minister, who just outlined the best parts of the budget from a social services perspective, which were all measures inherited by the government from the opposition. Indeed, they are measures that were contained in a bill introduced into the parliament in February. I also commend the minister for her very fine words in relation to violence against women and children and the work that the government is doing. We will provide bipartisan support on that.
In light of those well-meaning words, it is very hard to understand how one of the largest pieces of new expenditure in this budget—$217 million to abolish the cashless debit card—accords with the stated objective to reduce violence against women and children. We know the consequences of abolishing the CDC for vulnerable communities will be dire, particularly for women and children, who will see a flood of drugs and alcohol in those communities. I will put on the record that the ministers are good people and would not deliberately do that, but how on earth can you justify taking a measure that is going to cost $217 million to put drugs and alcohol into those communities? I ask the minister to detail how that eye-watering expenditure of $217 million, the so-called enhanced BasicsCard, will differ from the already successful and functional cashless debit card. Is this $217 million to rebuild something—to call it a different name—that will have the same functionality and support, importantly, from the community as the card that it's replacing? It's very clear that the government put themselves into a corner here. They announced that they were abolishing the CDC, then realised the devastating consequences that would have but, stubbornly, instead of walking away from it, they have continued and are going to spend $217 million in order to do that.
I also want to know from the minister, in detail, what coordination, support and consultation have been provided to the communities in the following areas: Ceduna and the surrounding areas, East Kimberley, Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay—not a telephone number that people can call, but what actual support is being provided to the services on the ground that are waiting nervously for the flood of devastation that is going to hit them. That's what I have for the Social Services portfolio.
In relation to the NDIS, the minister went to the election making a lot of promises. He very happily raised expectations. He very happily created an expectation that no plan would ever go backwards on his watch. It was all going to be a utopia. It was all going to be rainbows and lollipops under this minister. He also made clear before the election that he thought the scheme was sustainable as it was, that the only people referring to sustainability, those nasty Liberals, were out of step. Now he claims that the scheme 'is growing in its cost base too quickly'. When's he going to fess up to the people, for whom he created expectations, prior to the election? He said before the election that there were some people saying there was going to be a catastrophic disaster happening in the NDIS:
You can't move around the corridors of Parliament in Canberra without tripping over a Coalition Minister whispering the Scheme is unsustainable.
I'm here to tell you … that is a lie.
Can the minister finally make clear, what is his position on the sustainability of the NDIS? Level with the Australian people. Be honest with the Australian people. If the more than half a million Australian participants should be worried about your views on the sustainability and what you will be hoping to do following the NDIS review, level with them now and make it clear, because before the election you said no plans would go backwards on your watch and that the scheme was sustainable as it is. So if you are now walking away from that, make it clear and apologise for the expectations that you raised in those vulnerable half a million participants and their families. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on some of the many ways in which the Social Services portfolio is supporting Australian families and communities in the 2022-23 budget. This budget delivers on the Albanese Labor government's election commitments. In short, we are doing what we told the Australian people we would do. The government has moved swiftly and with great energy to address issues that affect just about every Australian family in some way, and I will talk about some of those ways today. The government is working to tackle gender inequality—namely, by improving our paid parental leave scheme and investing in early childhood education and development.
We are modernising Australia's paid parental leave scheme, making it easier for families to use it in ways that work for their family. To do this, we are investing $531.6 million over four years to progressively expand the scheme, by adding two weeks a year to provide a total of 26 weeks by 1 July 2025, and we are introducing gender neutral claiming to allow either parent to claim first. We are increasing the flexibility of the scheme, so the entire entitlement can be taken in blocks as small as one day at a time with periods of work and within two years of the date of birth or adoption. To support families and incentivise both parents to access the scheme, it will reserve a dedicated use-it-or-lose-it portion for each parent. The Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, chaired by Sam Mostyn AO, will assist in the finalisation of the changes to the scheme to ensure that the final model supports women's economic participation and gender equality. Taken together, these measures will deliver great flexibility for families and support both parents to spend more time with their newborn children.
The Albanese Labor government is also investing in early childhood education and development to ensure that every Australian child can reach their full potential. Our investments are designed to target children and families for support during what the evidence shows us are the most crucial years of their development. We have committed $4.2 million to develop a whole-of-Commonwealth early years strategy to set out our vision for Australia's children. This investment will support a comprehensive engagement and consultation strategy, including a national summit and research into what is important for our children to thrive.
I was delighted to join Ministers Rishworth and Aly and my friend the member for Adelaide last Friday to announce the date for the National Early Years Summit, scheduled to take place in Parliament House on 17 February next year. The Early Years Strategy will focus on the Commonwealth's role in early childhood and on creating a more integrated and coordinated approach to early childhood development. It will also seek to increase accountability for the wellbeing, education, health and development of children.
Playgroups and toy libraries provide accessible and affordable spaces, resources and opportunities for children to play together and for parents and carers to seek social and parenting support, and this government understands that. When my triplet sons were born 23 years ago tomorrow—happy birthday to them—I was in a rural area. I know the importance of being able to access the local toy library and local playgroups for my own personal socialisation but also for their socialisation. These universal services are also a key entry point for vulnerable families. They improve the early development and wellbeing of children and parent-child relationships and increase feelings of belonging and connection in families with their communities.
That's why this budget provides $12.4 million over four years to increase support for playgroups and toy libraries across Australia. The measure will support increased access to community and volunteer run playgroups with a focus on regional and remote locations where known gaps exist. It will also support culturally and linguistically diverse families and children with disability or development concerns. It will also support the development of new intergenerational playgroups which provide an opportunity for isolated older Australians in residential and other settings to engage in positive community interactions. So my question for the minister is: what other measures are in place through the 2022-23 budget to support Australian families and Australian children?
I am pleased to be in this place to ask a question of the minister. I don't think I've ever seen so many people in the Federation Chamber. I will provide the question first and then list the reasons why. My question to the minister is: why has this government sat on their hands in delivering increased work bonus caps for aged pensioners who wish to work to alleviate cost-of-living pressures?
Back in June, the Leader of the Opposition proposed a policy that would benefit older Australians while plugging a gap in the workforce market—namely, that there should be an increase to the work bonus income cap to double its current level, taking it from $300 to $600 per fortnight. This was widely acknowledged as sensible at the time. Subsequently, on 3 August, Senator the Hon. Dean Smith, a Liberal senator for Western Australia, introduced a private senator's bill entitled Social Services Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Pensioner and Veteran Workforce Participation) Bill 2022, which contained this very policy.
Please pay particular attention to the dates that are being mentioned here in June and August. In the first week of September, Labor held the national jobs summit, and we waited with bated breath for a response from the unions and Labor to advise us of their silver bullets to solve the workforce shortages and secure sustainable wage growth for both the short and long term. This came some four weeks later, when, on 28 September, a renamed workforce incentive bill was introduced to the House.
I took particular interest in this claim when the Minister for Social Services stated, in reference to the Jobs and Skills Summit, that:
During this consultation, stakeholders and peak bodies representing older Australians advised that many age pensioners and other pensioners over age pension age are motivated to contribute to the workforce and are an underutilised group …
Four weeks later! Well, that golden revelation must have been a complete surprise considering we'd already put a bill forward outlining exactly that two months prior! And for the minister to state upon the second reading that the skills summit 'presented an enormous opportunity to examine potential solutions' was indeed a stretch, even for Labor! There was an enormous missed opportunity to pass a bill that outlined almost identical but stronger measures in the prior financial quarter rather than allow another quarter to lapse without effective action. I won't labour any longer on the failure for Labor to deliver 'a watered-down version of a coalition bill'.
The first two schedules in the latest workforce incentives bill replicate almost identically the measures provided by the coalition's earlier bills, and we waited an additional financial quarter to see this introduced! Where this bill differs in schedule 3, which takes the coalition's version of doubling the pensioners' work bonus per fortnight and reduces it to effectively increase it of over just 50 per cent, let's be frank, it hardly has the same kind of driving incentive to rejoin the workforce—does it? And this third schedule outlines the aforementioned reduction available only on a temporary basis to 31 December 2023, so it's available for just over 12 months. Comparatively, the coalition alternative could have been passed in September—not late November—and then being available for a longer period for an annual review.
I will ask the minister again: Why has this government obstructed and delayed the introduction of the increased work bonus cap for aged pensioners who wish to contribute further to the workplace across the nation? What do you say to the aged pensioners in my electorate of Cowper who have waited a further two months to access additional employment income to pay for their higher bills? Why has the government rejected access to an ongoing higher work bonus cap from January 2024?
I would like to ask the minister about the ways the budget supports vulnerable people in my electorate. I am really pleased about the Albanese government's commitment to make women's safety a national priority. The prevention of domestic violence, and support for local women and children who are experiencing domestic violence, is a key concern in my electorate of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast. The problem is being deeply exacerbated by the housing crisis, all too often leaving women with no other choice but to stay with violent partners because they just cannot find another home to go to.
Women and children are struggling to access services and being left in harm's way in the process. I want to share a couple of these heartbreaking stories. I won't use names, but their stories are powerful nonetheless.
I received this email from a local Shoalhaven woman just yesterday, and my office is looking at how we can support her. She said:
I am making contact with you knowing your much respected interest in helping women of domestic violence in the Shoalhaven.
I am your key demographic on this matter, and my family and I have experienced the depths of this over many years, now ending up with us being homeless despite the assistance so far from services.
The housing crisis has hit us hard, and we have been disadvantaged by every loophole we have found along the way in a system that desperately needs looking at.
Another email from last month:
I recently moved back to the Shoalhaven after leaving Sydney to escape domestic violence with my two young children and am 19 weeks pregnant.
I am currently staying with family but am trying to secure a rental before my baby is born.
I have applied for no less than 30 houses that are within my price range in the past six weeks.
I have been informed by a real estate agent that my applications are getting denied because I am being honest that I have fled domestic violence.
She goes on to say:
How are women supposed to leave without support for their families or with housing?
I was relieved to be able to help this mother find some housing. But she says that we need more local support for people fleeing domestic violence, and I agree. Too many women cannot get the support they need when they reach out for help, due to funding and staffing shortages in shelters and crisis centres. But this budget invests $1.7 billion in women's safety. The budget delivers substantial funding for prevention, early intervention and response initiatives to address family, domestic and sexual violence. This includes $39.6 million this financial year to meet increased demand for the escaping violence payment. We are also delivering 500 additional frontline service and community workers, supporting women and children experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence. Half of these jobs will be in rural, regional and remote areas, and I know the Shoalhaven will have some of these places prioritised in our community. This will go some way to addressing the issues that young mum raised with me. It's a huge job, but we are making a start because local women and children can't afford to wait.
I'm proud that the Albanese government is improving outcomes for the 4.4 million Australians with a disability. I recently met with Wade from Berry. Wade is a local institution. He runs Rekindle Me, working with local businesses to reuse e-waste. He will recycle anything with a cord. He recycled over six tons of materials in just three months. How amazing is that? All of this is made even more amazing by the fact that Wade lives with a disability, experiencing mobility issues, amongst other things. But Wade doesn't let that stop him. I'm delighted that this budget is working to support local people with a disability, including investing $19.4 million to extend the disability employment services for another two years, while innovative work is undertaken to build an improved model for disability employment.
The budget also provides $32.3 million to build up to 400 new changing places and toilets for people with higher support needs. This week I welcomed Annette Pham to Parliament House. One of Annette's many hats is a mum and disability advocate. Annette has fought long and hard for changing places amenities, and this week I got to show her the fruits of her fight here, in Parliament House. It was a great moment. Thank you to Annette and everyone who fights to improve the lives of people living with a disability.
My question to the minister is: in addition to these measures that boost safety, security and equality for Australian people, what other supports for vulnerable communities does this budget deliver?
It has been remarked a lot in the chamber and, indeed, in the community that this budget was a shocker—an absolute shocker! The government spoke about the budget for one morning and we've scarcely heard about it since, quite understandably. Having been involved in a few budgets as a Treasury minister in my time, I can say that it was remarkable for a few reasons. One is how little was contained in it. In fact, most MYEFOs I've been involved with have included more than this so-called budget.
Emblematic of that in one area—but no more than any other—was housing. We saw the farcical announcement on budget night about one million homes. It was a farcical announcement. It sounded pretty farcical in the speech, and then, when we drilled down, it just got worse and worse. A million homes is what was described in the speech. Then we learn it was an aspiration for a million homes. Then we learn it's not a million homes that the government is going to fund or build or be involved with. No, it's a million homes that are the 'business as usual' homes that are built every five years in this country. Indeed, for the last five full calendar years, more than a million homes have been built in Australia—1,029,000. So the government is saying that, from the middle of 2024, they'll build fewer homes than were built in the five years preceding them coming into government.
Then we find out about the accord, which is code for 'more meetings'. The way to solve the housing problems in Australia is to have more meetings. I note that the housing minister has been sidelined. The Treasurer's leading this. The Treasurer's leading the accord because he doesn't feel he can entrust the housing minister. I want to know that what we found out out of the so-called accord is that 10,000 new homes are actually what the so-called accord will deliver—not the million homes, but the 10,000 homes under the accord. But then there was the further detail that the outcome of the so-called accord will only commence from 1 July 2024.
My question to the minister is: can the minister explain to vulnerable families and those doing it tough why they're expected to struggle for another two winters before the minister and government's so-called accord actually start delivering? That's not being built on 1 July 2024, but they'll start, presumably, on 1 July 2024. Can the minister confirm the point at which the delivery of those homes will commence under the accord? And when will people doing it tough now be able to apply to live in one of those homes? Will that be in 2025 or 2026? Will it be three, four or five winters they will have to do it tough?
The minister and the government also announced 30,000 social and affordable homes over five years. As a former housing minister, I say that time is of the essence with these things. We proudly set up and established the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation, and, a credit to the government, they've adopted that body and taken on the home guarantee program I put in place. We're very, very pleased that they will continue with those. We asked them not to tinker with them, not to change them and not to destroy them, because they are very successful programs.
After six months in office, I want the minister to outline how many homes out of the 30,000 promised have been started. We're six months into a three-year term. We're a fair way through the term now. How many of the 30,000 have been delivered? I suspect none have been delivered. It would be unfair for me to ask the minister to have delivered homes in six months, but how many have been started? How many of the 30,000 that were promised have commenced? For those people who might be watching and wondering if they can live in one of those homes, what's the process for them to actually obtain the ability to apply to live in one of those homes if one of those homes exists and has been started? After six months, most reasonable people would expect that, if you've promised 30,000, you should have at least started a few. It will be interesting to hear if the minister can elaborate on what has actually been done rather than the promises with no delivery that we've seen thus far.
I'm going to take this opportunity to respond to some of the questions I've been asked in the social services portfolio. Firstly, I'll go to the cashless debit card. The minister used a lot of emotion—as happens in this debate—but, of course, not a lot of evidence. The fundamental part of his question was: where is the money in the budget going? He should know. The budget under the previous government had all the support services and cashless debit card sites. There were things like the youth mentoring program, the parent education support program, including life skills development, the home budgeting skills in Wyndham, the community navigator programs, and financial literacy and digital literacy. The funding ended for all of these programs on 1 July 2023. The former government had not put the services the communities wanted in the budget. So this budget gives some security to those really important community run services. He asked, 'What consultation?' That was the message that I got clearly from communities. They want programs that work, programs that have runs on the board, programs that make a difference. They are the programs we are investing in and ensuring continue to get the funding that was not put in the budget by the previous minister.
I thank the member for Boothby for highlighting some of the really important areas in this budget. The member for Boothby highlighted that this budget was a family-friendly budget, particularly in the area of social services, whether it was our paid parental leave or whether it was recognising that playgroups and toy libraries are so important. One of the really nice elements that will be happening in the playgroups is that the intergenerational playgroups that will be re-established to ensure that older Australians are connected with our youngest Australians and that those really wonderful opportunities are made. Our paid parental leave and Early Years Strategy are really a blueprint of how our government can be both family and child friendly and put children in the centre.
We got a very, very interesting question about the work bonus. There was chest thumping and, 'Why didn't you do this in June?' The election was 21 May! You'd think if this work bonus was such a great idea, the former government would have put it in their budget in March. They had the opportunity to lay this out in March—in fact, they had nine years to lay it out—and chose not to do it. They hadn't drafted any legislation and they hadn't done any costings. They used it as a political grandstanding opportunity. Well, we're doing things methodically and consistently. It's been six months and we've got runs on the board, including this seniors work bonus boost to their income. This pensioners boost went through the parliament and will start on 1 December. I hope the shadow minister and everyone else will be promoting this opportunity to seniors because pensioners are really important. This adds to our many other initiatives. Senior Australians have been ringing me, so excited that they are now eligible the seniors health card, a measure we were able to deliver.
I would also like to thank the member for Gilmore for speaking around the really good investment that we are making in family and domestic violence, which I'll finish on. Family, domestic and sexual violence are a scourge on this country. We need to do better and we need to invest in the things that work. I'm very proud of a government that is making a record investment. We have launched the national plan, which provides a blueprint for states, territories and the Commonwealth to be pulling in the same direction. It is critically important to making sure that we shift the dial, and we are determined to end this in one generation.
We're currently experiencing an unprecedented level of housing demand in rural and regional Australia, including in my electorate. During the pandemic, house prices in Indi increased by up to 34 per cent in some parts. Rental payments in regional Victoria have also increased significantly in the last couple of years and remain high still. A study by the national housing welfare organisation, Everybody's Home, conducted in March 2022 found that 40.6 per cent of renters in Indi experience housing stress and 61.4 per cent of homeowners in Indi were under mortgage stress.
In Indi, we know that the problem with housing affordability is not just rising prices; it's also supply. There are simply not enough houses. I met with constituents in Wodonga who'd submitted over 170 rental applications before finding a place. There are families in Indi who've worked hard to save a deposit, only to find there are no houses listed for sale within miles. The lack of affordable housing in Indi has disastrous flow-on economic impacts. If 10 per cent of workplace positions can't be filled due to housing shortages, this flows on to a $200 million economic loss to our region. The regions will lose tens of millions of dollars in economic activity if the housing crisis is not addressed.
Local councils are working hard to approve new lots for houses, with a large influx of people who've moved to the regions. After Wangaratta saw a three per cent population increase over a five-year period, the local council identified more land for housing development. Unfortunately, they also identified that the current sewerage system simply couldn't cope with this increase. So they can't build those houses, and they can't open that land.
With council budgets now facing more and more unexpected costs, into the hundreds and thousands of dollars, to repair roads after the floods, there simply isn't the funding—there wasn't before, and there certainly isn't now—for enabling infrastructure which would unblock supply. This is a really big problem. Without it, regional communities like Wangaratta, Benalla and Mansfield are simply not given the opportunity to thrive. I'm the first to say there's no single silver bullet to this problem; it's complex. But there are evidence based solutions to address these obstacles. For example, they could be addressed by the proposal I took to the previous government and the people of Indi during the election to establish a regional housing infrastructure fund—a dedicated fund to build critical infrastructure which would help unlock more housing supply in rural and regional Australia specifically. Infrastructure from streetlights and water supply to community gardens and childcare centres would be a pathway for rural councils to partner with community organisations, like BeyondHousing in my electorate, to make applications and to underwrite the costs of the enabling infrastructure.
Another solution has been put forward by local councils from Indi. Again, we know the problem; we're trying to come forward with solutions. The eight local government areas and three alpine resort management boards led by Tourism North East are proposing to establish the North East Workforce Management and Appropriate Housing project or the NEWMAH project. This is an innovative set of ideas and an innovative project that seeks government investment to address the lack of appropriate and affordable housing and, in turn, the challenges of retaining key workers. It seeks to do this by partnering with government in the NEWMAH project itself and subsequently approaching government for loans to construct workplace accommodation—not a handout; loans. It's an exciting, sensible and evidence based proposal, and I really hope to see its eventuality. I really look forward to discussing this with the Minister for Housing in my forthcoming meeting with her.
Under this government's first budget, they announced their $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund to build social and affordable housing. They announced the National Housing Accord, an agreement between all levels of government and investors in the construction sector to address housing supply. I welcome these government policies. I also welcome the government's expansion of the NHFIC program. But I want to see it deploy more funds into the regions. So my question to the government is: how can these policies announced under the budget specifically improve housing availability and affordability in rural and regional Australia?
It is my pleasure to rise and speak about housing and a return of the federal government to the provision of housing, especially social housing. What has been unfortunately a reflection of the political characteristics of the government is whether they would invest in social housing or not. The colour of the federal government and their political persuasion have determined whether the federal government would invest in social housing in support of the states or not. It was Curtin and Chifley after World War II who underwent a huge venture of federal government investment in housing for returned service people. It was the Whitlam government who invested in social housing as well. Of course, right through the Hawke and Keating years, the federal government supported people to have access to safe and secure housing. During the global financial crisis, the Rudd government, with Minister Plibersek, invested in access to safe housing, rental affordability and the provision, building and construction of social housing.
I'm extremely proud that this Albanese Labor government with the Minister for Housing is returning the federal government back to the provision of social housing. Unfortunately, the problem inside Australia, as you know, Deputy Speaker, is only going to get bigger. Without the federal government at the table, we will not be able to provide and make sure that Australians have access to safe and secure housing.
It shouldn't just be the Labor Party who believes in the federal government having a constructive role in funding the provision of housing. This should be something that all of us are united on, but unfortunately it's not. What we saw in the previous government was the former minister, who was in this debate—instead of bringing the federal government to the table on the provision of social housing, he said it was a matter for the states. He said it was a matter for the states and that the federal government wasn't going to invest in social housing. That had to change, and I'm very proud that under this government we are changing it.
The other thing that the federal government is doing that is really important is making sure that people with low and middle incomes can have access to the housing market. For my generation, and the generations that will follow me, a majority of people won't be getting into the housing market. It is an extraordinary thing to think that a majority of people coming through our workforces won't be able to get into the housing market. It means that, at retirement, people aren't going to have had assets accumulating throughout their lifetime.
The disparity between those who are able to get into the housing market and those who are unable to is extraordinary. In 2018, Per Capita conducted a study that found that if you could get into the housing market your net worth at retirement was around $980,000. If you were unable to get into the housing market, if you weren't able to get a mortgage, your net worth at retirement was around $40,000. A $40,000 to $1 million disparity is absolutely massive.
Housing has been a huge wealth creator in this country. Unfortunately, when you combine that with the fact that housing has because more unaffordable, more people are being driven into the rental market, the price of rent has gone up—especially in my electorate—following the return of skilled migrants and following the pandemic, housing is becoming less affordable. The percentage of someone's income going into the rental market is becoming less and less affordable for Australians, so being able to save up money and access a deposit to get into the housing market is becoming less attainable.
We know that this is disproportionately affecting women and that women working in lower-paid industries and women who are taking bigger breaks from the workforce are finding it even more difficult to get into the housing market. It is probably right up there with tackling climate change as the key issue that people in my electorate are talking to me about right now. We need to make sure that, in this place, we are pulling all of the levers that we possibly can in order to tackle the housing affordability and housing accessibility crisis we have in Australia.
The previous government decided to leave it to the states, but, under this government and under my friend the minister, we are going to do our bit and get things moving. I am extremely proud of the fact that we're going to be building 10,000 affordable homes and 30,000 social and affordable homes as soon as we can. My question to the minister is: how quickly can we do this and how big is the impact going to be on the Australians who desperately require the federal government to support them in their housing needs?
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
The Albanese government is strengthening Australia's economic recovery by diversifying trade and investment ties and backing the recovery of Australia's visitor economy. Open trade is a net positive for Australia. Recent analysis shows that one in four Australian jobs is related to trade, and jobs in export industries pay five per cent above the national average income. Our tourism industry is also a significant employer across the country, particularly in regional areas.
In the October budget, the Albanese government made targeted investments to grow the Australian economy and create jobs by generating enhanced trade, tourism and investment opportunities. We are providing $100 million in funding towards our participation in the 2025 World Expo to be held in Osaka, Japan, an amazing city that I had the great fortune to visit last week. I understand much planning is underway, by both the Japanese government and our Japanese embassy, for the Expo in 2025. At the Osaka World Expo we will showcase our clean energy and low-emissions technologies, and strengthen our position as a trusted and reliable partner on energy security for the region.
Continuing our support for clean energy exports, the government has committed $19.6 million of funding towards the Singapore-Australia Green Economy Agreement. The agreement will advance bilateral cooperation in clean hydrogen and renewable energy trade, and, more broadly, potentially serve as a model for regional cooperation on green economy issues. The opposition is quite right that these are bipartisan issues, and we do support these good ideas when they arise.
We recognise that to meet the challenges of our time we need to deepen and diversify our trading relationships. Placing all your trade eggs in one basket has proven to be a risky economic strategy. As such, the Albanese government will deliver $4 million towards a trade 2040 task force. This is on top of our commitment to deliver new diversified market opportunities for our exporters. Our South-East Asia economic strategy to 2040 will map out further export and investment opportunities, matching Australian capabilities across sectors in South-East Asia.
Just last night the Albanese government successfully passed legislation to implement free trade agreements with India and the United Kingdom through both houses of the parliament. This is a triumph for Australian exporters. The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement will cut tariffs for 90 per cent of Australia's exports to India, while the UK FTA will cut tariffs on over 99 per cent of Australian goods and exports to the UK. Together, these agreements represent a major step forward, helping Australian businesses expand and support high-paying jobs.
We believe in diversifying trade with important economic partners like the European Union through the EU FTA. This huge market, with 450 million people and a GDP of $23 trillion, will deliver even more opportunities for our exporters. Unfortunately, the former government's inaction on climate change, their absolute denial of the effect of potential carbon border adjustment mechanisms by the EU and their mishandling of the submarine contract blocked our progress on this very important FTA. It was the Albanese government that brought back our trade negotiations and put the EU back on track. With those issues behind us, and those dinosaurs still over there opposite, we are on the path to conclude negotiations by the year 2023.
We know the last few years have been incredibly challenging for around 300,000 Australian businesses in the travel and tourism industry. The government is committed to growing and rebuilding the sector, so as to return it to the economic powerhouse we know it to be, and has committed $48 million to support this recovery. We are doing what we said we'd do and we are doing more. This $48 million investment in the travel and tourism sector will support marketing to attract workers to Australia's vibrant and dynamic tourism industry; invest in expanding the Hub, a portal run by the Accommodation Association of Australia; and help tourism businesses get back into the international market through activities like expos, development and marketing.
We've also opened applications for grants to upgrade caravan parks, which play a critical role in delivering affordable accommodation options for travellers, particularly families and those grey nomads who we know travel up and down the coast and around this country—to escape the winters of Victoria mainly.
On top of that, the Albanese government is providing $4.7 million over two years to modernise Tourism Research Australia's analytical offering, and $2 million over three years to Tourism Research Australia to measure the economic contribution of these all-important business events.
We are very proud to support open trade and tourism for Australia, and we know it's a bipartisan— (Time expired)
It's great to hear Madeleine King outline all the successes of the previous government in such a comprehensive way. It is great to hear all those details of our great successes.
I rise to ask some fairly serious questions. When will the government respond to the dire human rights situations we are seeing in Myanmar and Iran?
In Senate estimates hearings, we heard the foreign minister say she was still 'actively considering' sanctions in relation to Myanmar. These are the same words she has used on multiple occasions since becoming the minister after the election. The coalition appreciates the sensitivities around this issue. We of course welcome the release in the past week of Australian economist Professor Sean Turnell, after 21 months in detention in Myanmar. We acknowledge the work of the government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in securing that outcome—work which built on that of the former minister Senator Marise Payne. The ongoing work of the government through ASEAN to increase pressure on the military junta builds on foundations set by the former government. It is important that Australia continues to work with regional partners to increase pressure on Myanmar, and sanctions should be on the table as part of that. Does the government agree it is time it was upfront with Australians about what actions are being considered, if any? The time of thinking and considering is over. We need to get an answer.
We have seen the terrible situation in Iran, where many lives have been lost since the murder of Mahsa Amini in September this year. At the same time, we are seeing incredible courage on display through the thousands upon thousands of Iranians civilians coming out to the streets in a show of support for human rights, especially for women and girls, at great risk to themselves. At least 326 people have died in these nationwide protests, and thousands have been arrested for peaceful protest. Just in recent days, we have seen more shocking reports of violence against civilians coming out of Iran. A nine-year-old boy was shot by security forces when they opened fire on his parents' car: one of 56 children—that we know of—killed by Iranian forces over the past eight weeks.
Many MPs and senators would have joined rallies across Australia in a show of support for these courageous Iranians. We all stand with Iranian Australians and with Iranians at home, who are enduring a terrible situation. Disturbingly, there have been reports of Iranian Australians targeted by threats and intimidation for speaking out against the Iranian regime and for helping people within Iran to communicate. In Ukraine, Iran has transferred unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia, which are now being used to target civilian infrastructure and population in Russia's continuing abhorrent war against Ukraine.
When will the government utilise the mechanisms provided for by the Magnitsky-style sanctions introduced by the coalition government, which passed through parliament with Labor support? At the time of the debate on these important reforms, the now Minister for Foreign Affairs said it was 'regrettable' that the regime wasn't put in place sooner. It's there now. Labor has been in government for six months. It is time to use it. Is the government at least considering action against the leadership of Iran, of the revolutionary guard, similar to those that many other nations have applied? We would deeply appreciate answers to these questions.
I'm very glad to make a contribution to the consideration of the budget measures in detail, specifically when it comes to the Albanese Labor government's measures in foreign affairs, trade, tourism and investment. There's just no doubt that Australia's sustainable economic wellbeing, its peace and security, its capacity to be a responsible and influential middle power on the world stage, particularly in our Indo-Pacific region, depends on the highest-quality engagement through all the vectors of foreign engagement—in trade, development assistance, in defence and in diplomacy. But we certainly didn't get that from the previous government in any of those areas, let alone on a concerted and strategic basis. Mercifully, that has now changed.
Within barely a month of the election of the Labor government the Prime Minister had held face-to-face meetings with leaders of some of our most important partners and neighbours, including the US, Japan, India, Indonesia and New Zealand, and in the first six months the foreign minister has renewed contact with some of Australia's closest partners, visiting 21 countries. My good friend and colleague the Minister for International Development and the Pacific has already met with all of his Pacific Islands Forum member counterparts and a number of them more than once. There's no question that that kind of attention and engagement is vital to promoting our national interest. That's why the government and its ministers, including the Minister for Resources here and the minister for trade in the other place, are bringing to bare all the tools of statecraft to pursue and secure those interests, many of which depend on international cooperation and on multilateral forums and agreements.
Climate change is a perfect example. We know the enaction of the recalcitrants of the coalition not only did enormous practical and economic harm to Australia but also harmed our reputation and relationships, especially in the Pacific. From the Leader of the Opposition who once crudely joked about Pacific Islands being subsumed by rising sea levels, we now get equally crude dog whistling about Australia's participation in climate mitigation funding mechanisms for developing countries. Not withstanding the determination of those opposite to always choose the low road, to always choose negative us-and-them politics, we recognise the need for a bipartisan approach to rebuilding Australia's international engagement capacity and influence. That's why we've re-established the programs supporting the bipartisan parliamentary delegation to the Pacific, and I look forward to going to the Pacific with some of those present here tonight. That program was cut by the coalition. I'm going to Fiji, I think, on 11 December, so hopefully some of you will be with me. We recognise the need to be united in showing up and listening and working with our Pacific family. Under the former government we've seen the consequences of a different approach.
In all seriousness, the Albanese Labor government is investing in development assistance and diplomacy in our region and beyond because we know it is the most effective and cost-effective means of promoting inclusive economic growth, ensuring peace and stability. That's why, from 2022-23, we'll provide an additional $900 million over four years to the Pacific to support development and resilience. The government will strengthen our people-to-people links by establishing a new Pacific Engagement Visa, the PEV, providing a pathway for permanent residency for 3,000 nationals each year from Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste. And we'll support civil society and non-government organisations who do such incredible and necessary work on the ground in local communities. We'll provide $32 million to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation under a new Indo-Pacific broadcasting strategy to help foster a diverse, independent and professional regional media sector. And the government will boast our ODA to Southeast Asia by providing an additional $470 million over four years, including—and this will get those opposite going—a new $200 million climate infrastructure partnership with Indonesia. Our focus on the significance of Southeast Asia will be reflected in a new office of Southeast Asia within DFAT. These are just some of the measures that will allow Australia to re-engage, to work collaboratively and to live up to our character as a nation that has no hesitation whatsoever in sharing common challenges with friends, partners and regional allies.
Now, as we emerge from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to refresh and reframe our development assistance programs so we will once again fulfil Australia's historic role as a supportive, responsive, collaborative regional partner and as a middle power looking to have a positive influence in areas like climate, ocean protection, fair and free trade, peace and disarmament. I'll be interested in the minister's views on all of those. (Time expired)
I know you are and we are! The others on the other side aren't quite as committed to free trade as we are. An interesting stat I was looking at the other day was that global trade has increased from US$6 trillion 20 years ago to US$22 trillion a few years ago. And you know what happened over the same time? Global poverty, as measured, went from 30 per cent of the global population to 10 per cent of the population. So I think they're correlated. We on this side of the House understand the wealth and the prosperity that free trade brings to everybody. That side of the House aren't quite so committed. They sort of want to be, but they can't be. It's reflected—
I get noise of agreement! It's reflected too in the statistics. We've got 16 bilateral trade agreements, with 13 of them done by this side of the House—13 of the 16! That shows that we are committed and they're not. You might think: why wouldn't they be? When you look at the wealth that trade brings, why are the other side not committed to free trade like we are? It's very easy to understand. It's because we know the unions are back in town. We know, with the industrial relations legislation and everything else, that the unions are back in town. They're running the town. They're in control of the town.
Here's a good quote for you in regard to the free trade agreement that the previous minister negotiated with the UK. The CFMMEU donated millions of bucks, as we know, to the Labor Party. The CFMMEU says, 'Our view is that the proposed agreement should be scrapped.' There you go! The puppet masters of this lot are saying they should be scrapped. The CFMMEU is saying you should scrap the deal. That's why they're not quite as committed as they would like to be. The ACTU, on the trade deal with India and Indonesia, suggested it was written in secret and had no benefits for local working people. That's why that side can't nail free trade agreements; they're not really committed to them.
They've already come out, since they've been in government, with another trade killer. The trade killer—and they've announced this—is Labor's hard-line, never-ever decision on investor-state dispute settlement provisions. Again, this is directed to them from the unions. They're completely against ISDS. They're over there agreeing. Guess what? We have over seven of those as part of our free trade agreements. If we had had them in charge, those deals wouldn't have been done, because the unions are saying, 'You can't do that.' Again, their puppet masters are saying you can't do a deal with an ISDS provision so they won't do the deals. In fact, they've said that they're going to review current FTAs and look at the ISDS provisions. So some of our FTAs are now in trouble because this lot have got in.
The issues with ISDS were articulated in a submission to the JSCOT inquiry into the Peru FTA. Those opposite might want to listen to this. The submission stated:
Opponents of ISDS in Australia's FTAs, such as unions (ACTU) … have failed to articulate a cogent case as to why they oppose it. The ACTU's claim that ISDS 'provides an avenue for foreign corporations to threaten and lodge claims for actual or potential harm resulting from changes in policy and regulation in the country in which they are investing' reflects a basic misunderstanding of how ISDS operates.
There have been 12 incidences of Australian companies bringing claims against other countries as part of these investor-state dispute protections, and it has worked for Australia. In contrast, there's only been one against us, and Australia won the case against a tobacco company. Again, the unions don't like it, so those opposite aren't allowed to like it. I ask the question of the government: when will the government fully implement the ALP policy on ISDS?
To go to tourism: our tourism sector is in trouble. Do you know what their solution to the tourism sector was? The sector is in trouble and we're trying to build our international tourism numbers. Their solution was to cut $35 million from Tourism Australia in the recent budget. My question is: how does the government justify slashing $35 million from Tourism Australia when we're trying to build tourism numbers?
Australians took a big sigh of relief after the election, and now we're all just taking a big sigh of relief after whatever that was. I'm very pleased to rise to speak on the Foreign Affairs and Trade consideration in detail. This is a matter on which there has been one of the most significant changes since the election: having a foreign minister that actually wants to be the foreign minister, having a foreign minister that is actually engaged in our region, having a foreign minister who turns up and treats our Pacific neighbours with friendship and attention to detail and who works with them and tries to elevate the voices of our Pacific friends.
We understand that Australia's place and role in the region is the single most important thing we can do in Australia's national interest in a foreign policy sense. We know that working with our Pacific island nations to ensure Australia remains the partner of choice and a friend and partner in the dealings of the Pacific islands is the single biggest thing we can do in Australia's national interest. Compare the proactive way in which we engage with respect to Pacific island nations with some of the absolute gutter politics we have seen from those opposite, trying to play domestic politics with Australia's foreign aid. Some of the questions we have heard in question time! Really they should be asking themselves: is it in Australia's national interest to be playing that sort of domestic politics with Australia's foreign policy and international development money? We do not increase Australia's influence in our region by reducing the amount of investment Australia makes in the region. We do not increase our ability to act in Australia's national interest by playing domestic politics with Australia's foreign aid.
I know that there are many people on the other side of the parliament who care deeply about Australia's standing in our region, who care deeply about our relationship with our friends and who care deeply about Australia's role in the Pacific. The question they should be asking is: is the leadership being provided by the Leader of the Opposition, who is willing to play these low political games with Australia's foreign policy and international development, the best they've got? Is that putting their best foot forward? I'm not exactly sure that that is something all of them would agree with. I hope to see them drop those quite unnecessary and low political acts.
The other thing since the election has been the willingness of the now Albanese Labor government to take the real concerns of Pacific island nations around climate change seriously. I note the Minister for International Development and the Pacific is with us in the chamber, and he has been at forefront of working on, understanding, listening to and caring about the serious and existential concerns of Pacific island nations around climate change. This is not a theoretical exercise; this is something they are living each and every day, and it also affects Australia's place in the world and our ability to have influence and be taken seriously at a multilateral forum. We just had a COP in Egypt where Australia was welcomed back into the fold in a multilateral forum because we understand that climate change is something we need to play a leadership role in. That is something that has changed dramatically. We are no longer making jokes about the impacts of climate change on our friends in the Pacific underneath a boom mike like those opposite did once upon a time. We are listening, elevating and working with the Pacific islands. In fact, work has already commenced to host COP31 together with Pacific island nations to elevate the voices, concerns and needs of our Pacific island friends and family.
It's a very different approach to foreign policy. It's an approach where we take seriously Australia's engagement with our region. We want to increase Australia's ability to have our say and put forward our national interest, but that's also good for our friends in the Pacific islands. That's something I care deeply about. I'm proud to be the chair of the Papua New Guinea-Australia friendship group. I'm looking forward to heading to Papua New Guinea in a couple of weeks and meeting with our friends. I'm very proud of the work being done by the government. I ask the minister: does he agree with the work being done by the government?
Before some close analysis and scrutiny of what Labor has committed to in international development in the Pacific, I want to highlight some of the incredible investments the coalition made in this space whilst in power. We were able to increase aid funding to the Pacific, which reached a record high of $1.721 billion in 2020-21. We supported economic growth and connectivity through electrification and undersea cabling initiatives through the $3 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.
COVID 19 was a remarkably tough time for Australia and, of course, for the wider region and the whole world, but I'm proud that even when we experienced our own problems we didn't turn our back on our neighbours. I recall the then member for Flinders and minister for health going out of his way to ensure that vaccinations went to the Pacific, so that we did what we should do as good neighbours. The government committed an additional $1 billion in aid funding over four years to support the region's pandemic response. That support included sharing more than 40 million COVID vaccine doses with Pacific and South-East Asian countries and the provision of essential medical equipment and training, and laboratory and technical support.
When it came to food security and humanitarian support, in 2021 Australia provided $173.4 million in funding for nutrition and food security, more than $541 million in funding for humanitarian, emergency and refugee programs. In the March 2022-23 budget, the government pledged $145 million for protracted humanitarian crises, including in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and $40 million to the United Nations World Food Programme.
Now let us look ahead and put the Albanese government under the microscope. Firstly, most importantly and most urgently is famine. Fifty million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries; 10,000 children are dying every day from hunger. NGOs collectively asked Australia for $150 million. The government committed just $15 million, the same amount it committed to upgrading a sporting complex in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria. I'd like to know what informed the government's decision to provide just 10 per cent of that request. Canada has provided A$287 million to the global hunger crisis. The US has given A$715 million. Australia's $15 million is just two per cent of the United States' contribution. Is that really enough, Minister? Does the government have any intention of increasing its funding?
In 2011 more than a quarter of a million people died in Somalia from the famine. In DFAT's own assessments of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa it recognises that, while the government provided the right amount of funding, it was not released quickly enough. NGOs have been raising the alarm on the current hunger crisis for months, yet it took the government until September to release any funding, which was at best inadequate and at worst insulting. Is the government content with the speed at which we are releasing funding to those in need in the Horn of Africa?
Another disaster that deserves more attention is the Pakistan floods. More than 1,700 people have died, and the Australian government has provided just $5 million towards this. We will see related health issues putting stress on the already crippled health system there. Fixing vital infrastructure will take many, many years. Undoubtedly, we will see a rise in terrorism because of these floods, sadly and unfortunately. Minister: is the government really comfortable with a measly $5 million contribution? The United Kingdom government provided the equivalent of A$26 million. The US has provided A$46½ million. Is Australia pulling its weight?
Even when we're allocating this money, we don't seem to be using the most effective mechanisms. The Australian Humanitarian Partnership is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australian NGOs. The AHP ensures that when we do allocate money we deliver the most effective, innovative and collaborative humanitarian assistance available. However, the government is failing to use the AHP. Instead, it has given the funding to UN agencies. I would like to know for 2021-22 and 2022-23 what proportion of humanitarian preparedness and response funding was allocated through the AHP. Why is the government using the UN as a middleman instead of giving the funding directly to the NGOs? Whilst we're on the topic of efficient use of funds, I have some questions about Australia's commitment of $17 million for the Pacific Games. I applaud our support of our dear friends in the Solomons. However, I would like to know what that money will go to specifically. Was there a value for assessments completed?
Well, what a difference the Albanese Labor government is making after just six months, after nine long years under the coalition government. We've heard a lot of talk about the Pacific. The coalition government in the past talked about their Pacific step-up. We called it a Pacific stuff-up because that's what it was. Now all they can do is try and score cheap political points on our national security and our foreign policy. That is what they've reverted to. It's a bit of a disgrace because the issues, the geostrategic challenges that we are facing, are far too important. The strategic global contest in the Indo-Pacific, the centrepiece in many respects of this contest between the rise of authoritarianism and democracy, is too important to play politics with, as the Prime Minister has rightly pointed out.
We are a government that is focused on the geostrategic challenges that we face. It is about our national interest, not playing cheap politics with our national security and foreign policy. In the six short months of this government the Minister for Foreign Affairs; the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who is here in the chamber; the Prime Minister; and others have gone about resetting relationships in the Pacific, rebuilding trust and renewing commitments across the Pacific and South-East Asian nations on issues that they care about, such as climate change. The foreign minister and our other ministers have used the three Ds of statecraft—nuanced diplomacy; development assistance; and defence, building our defence capability—together in order to achieve our objectives, which I am sure those opposite would have to agree with. I am sure they'll provide bipartisan support.
Our objective is the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the ongoing prosperity that flows from that. We can't disagree about that. But it is also about defending the liberal rules-based order, one that benefits us and nations in the region to ensure security and stability. That is why the nuanced diplomacy that has been practised by our executive, by the ministers who have been doing such a great job across the region, is about improving relationships, reducing tension and making Australia a partner of choice for the countries of the region. That is so important because in the past, frankly, there has been a degree of paternalism, a kind of arrogance towards the Pacific. We have heard all the stories. They are our partners. They are equals. They are sovereign states. They need to be treated with respect, and that is exactly what we are doing.
We've announced $900 million, committed over four years from 2022-23, to increase support for the Pacific and more than $147 million over four years to advance Pacific security and engagement priorities. We have increased development assistance for South-East Asia by $470 million. The member for Riverina mentioned increased overseas development assistance. He is kind of right. The previous government increased it in part of the Pacific, but they also ripped $11 billion dollars over nine years out of the development assistance budget. That is what they did. So you're partly right there, member for Riverina.
In defence we are working to build defence assets that deter adversaries that would seek to diminish the rules based order, whether they be state or non-state actors. We are establishing a Pacific Defence School to train Pacific Island countries' defence and security forces, an important initiative. We're advancing economic partnerships—Indonesia is a prominent example—and building people-to-people links, creating 3,000 engagement visas each year.
Whether it is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the PM, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister, they've all made a tremendous effort over the past six months to advance our national interest across the Indo-Pacific. They've combined the three Ds in a very effective way to help us stabilise our relationships with major economic partners, including stabilising our relationship with China. We've seen the importance of dialogue occurring for the first time in six years between the leaders of China and Australia.
This is all about making our region more resilient, about allowing Australia to help shape our strategic circumstances to our advantage, to shape a region and a world that have respect for the international rules-based order, human rights, shared security and shared economic strength—as the Prime Minister has called it, the importance of the international rule of law. We are a trading nation. We have to ensure that as many nations as possible—our partners—respect that rules based order, because it benefits us and because it is about the future of our children and grandchildren. What we do now will shape the next 10 to 20 years.
To quote Resources Minister King from question time today, one in four Australian jobs is trade related. What this means is that Australia's economic future will be put at risk if the Albanese government doesn't continue to build on Australia's existing trade relationships and international reputation as we face trade challenges in an increasingly volatile world.
Whilst in government, the coalition pursued an ambitious agenda of diversifying our trade markets and opening up new market opportunities. Taking into account the Australia-UK FTA and the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, which passed through the House this week, the coalition government has negotiated 11 trade agreements since 2013, lifting the share of Australia's trade covered by FTAs from around 25 per cent in 2013 to almost 80 per cent today. But there are still many trade opportunities to be pursued, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.
In February 2021, the former Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan, announced the commencement of the investigation into how best to strengthen trade and investment with Israel, including a potential FTA. Also in 2021, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced renewed interest in pursuing an FTA with Australia. The GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is an established market for Australian agriculture produce, including live animals, meat, dairy, vegetables, sugar, wheat and other grains, with trade accounting for $11 billion in 2021. In March 2022, Minister Tehan and his United Arab Emirates counterpart, His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, announced that Australia and the UAE would pursue a comprehensive economic partnership agreement. Labor announced a trade diversification policy at the last election, but I note this did not include commitments to any new trade agreements, nor any reference to our valuable Middle Eastern markets. Minister, now you're in government, I would like to ask whether Minister Farrell has progressed any of the aforementioned feasibility studies or negotiations with the Middle East.
Continuing on, I note the Middle East is an important market and friend to Australia. In times of global uncertainty, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the current conflict in the Ukraine, the food security of the Middle East has come under considerable threat. Transport arteries through the Black Sea have been compromised, restricting movements of grain and other products. And the current government remains committed to closing the live sheep export trade, most of which originates from my home state of Western Australia. This policy was announced by a group called the Australian Alliance for Animals during the election campaign. Can you imagine the horror of the farmers and producers and our customers in the Middle East during those days in the campaign when the then spokesman, the member for Franklin, jumped around with a different position from day to day, not having a clue what the actual policy was?
Finally, we have landed with the current minister Watt stating that this phase-out will not occur during this term of government but he remains resolved to phase the industry out. This is at odds with WA Premier Mark McGowan, who believes that animal welfare advances made since the unfortunate Awassi Express incident now provide the transparency and welfare assurances the general public needs. While both Minister Watt and Minister Farrell maintain the live-export ban will not extend to cattle, unfortunately this will happen by default, as most of the cattle exported to the Middle East travel on multidestination live sheep carriers.
Feedback that I've received from Australian exporters and their Middle Eastern destination markets is that closure of this important trade in animal protein could signal a change in our broader trading relationship. I know Agriculture Minister Watt has received correspondence from his Kuwaiti counterpart emphasising the decades-old Kuwait-Australia trade relationship and the scope for expansion of agribusiness, energy sector service and equipment, education, tourism and other services, as well as reiterating that Kuwait is one of our largest Middle Eastern investors in Australia. This letter outlined their cultural preference for fresh meat over frozen or chilled and the greater halal confidence that locally processed meat provided over a product certified by non-Muslim countries. Presuming this concern would be shared by other Middle Eastern live export destination countries, I asked the minister: has the Albanese had any conversations with our Middle Eastern trading partners regarding the broader trade ramifications of the phase out of the live sheep trade to the Middle East?
I am indebted to the indulgence of the Deputy Speaker for allowing me five minutes to make a few statements about our budget and respond to some of the questions from my shadow ministerial colleague.
I want to start by saying that I really do appreciate the efforts of the shadow minister and his real attempts to take a bipartisan approach. We're not going to agree on everything, and his job is to hold the government and me to account, and I expect he'll do that. On the question of the $17 million for the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands, we will be funding the refurbishment of school classrooms that will be used to house athletes during the games. The beauty of that project is that it has a double dividend. It contributes to the success of the Pacific Games but also gives greater education infrastructure to the boys and girls of the Solomon Islands. I think that's really important.
On the question on the AHP, I'm going to take that on notice and come back to you with a detailed answer on the division there. I appreciate his views on humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. Obviously, $10 million of the $15 million allocated will go to the UN World Food Program and $5 million to NGOs. I appreciate that there is a debate about whether the UN is the right body for it. We generally use the UN because we know that they can deliver. They have the expertise and the track record of delivering on food assistance. That $15 million is in addition to our general funding to the UN World Food Program. We've already allocated $63 million to the UN World Food Program this year already, and $157 million went to them last year. That funding goes to where the UN World Food Program says the need is greatest, which includes places like Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Syria and the broader Indo-Pacific. So I urge people not to look at the $15 million in isolation; it is part of a broader program.
On the Pakistan floods, quite frankly, that's why it's informed our position on climate loss and damage in the UN COP discussions. Yes, we need to support the current emerging crisis, and we absolutely are doing that, but we are going to see more of that with climate change, and we need to be prepared to take action on that. That's why I'm disappointed by the attacks in question time on that particular fund. I know it's not a view universally held in the opposition, but, when the Leader of the Opposition continues to use that line of attack, he diminishes himself, he diminishes Australia's ability to promote our interests abroad and, ultimately, weakens our national security.
On the shadow minister's comments about increased aid to the Pacific, I acknowledge that the former government did increase aid to the Pacific. It was at the expense of cuts elsewhere, and that was unfortunate. I also applaud their general increase in temporary and targeted assistance over those years. I do wish that they had the courage to make them permanent, and I think what they did reflected a debate within their party room. Clearly, they went as far as they could. I would have liked to have given them more support so they could go further, and I stand ready to support and make a case for bipartisan increases in foreign aid. It's an essential part of our broader international engagement. Whenever you talk to senior leaders of the ADF and defence, they make the point that our national security isn't just based on our defence policy and defence resourcing; it's based on DFAT, foreign aid, Border Force and a holistic approach to national security.
In the time remaining I want to inform the House about some excellent announcements we made in our budget, including $900 million in additional overseas development assistance to the Pacific. That was part of a $1.4 billion budget increase. This year we will provide $1.9 billion in development assistance to the Pacific. That is the highest level ever. We are introducing the Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership to support climate infrastructure in the Pacific, not just mitigation and adaptation but renewable energy projects. There's the revolutionary Pacific Engagement Visa to grow a diaspora in this country—3,000 permanent migrants every year will be transformational. The one I'm most passionate about is turbocharging the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, a scheme that benefits Australia, a scheme that benefits the workers and benefits the countries those workers are coming from. We will hit 35,000 workers this year and, hopefully, we can do more. There was also the $32 million Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy.
I conclude with the fact that I'm looking forward to travelling with shadow foreign minister Birmingham on the bipartisan parliamentary trip. This is an important initiative that is essential to demonstrate to the Pacific that, no matter who is in power here, they can rely on Australia as their partner of choice.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
It's often said that our farming, fishing and forestry industries are at the forefront of managing and adapting to climate change. Yesterday, in my role as co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers, I had the great privilege of welcoming to parliament the leaders summit hosted by the National Farmers Federation. In that group of over 100 people was a young farmer, and he told me he'd just recently been appointed to the NFF's youth council. I said to him: 'As a young farmer, what are your main desires and wishes and, seriously, what are the priorities for young farmers?' Without batting an eyelid, the first two things he said to me were: 'Meryl, net zero and innovation.' I was incredibly impressed with his answer.
Then we turned to commentary around the weather, as we often do with the ag sector, and he said: 'These floods and natural disasters are such a devastation for our industry.' Of course, fires—not to mention drought—have also presented great problems. It's like all things: we know that very soon we'll probably be staring down another drought. Even though we're right in the middle of a La Nina at the moment, we know an El Nino will once again rear its head as well.
In my own electorate of Paterson, oyster farms are suffering the effects of QX disease—the Q is for Queensland—which is caused by a parasite. That has been complete devastating. On top of that, we've had local bee farmers wiped out by the Varroa destructor mite, as well as the ongoing challenges of dramatic weather events. That's impacting not just local honey production; in the ag sector it affects pollination, and that will be a real challenge in the Hunter for the next three years and, potentially, the next five.
Over the years, farmers, small businesses and rural operations have had to adapt to all of these changing conditions. On top of that, we have had the biosecurity threat of things like lumpy skin disease and foot and mouth disease hanging over our heads, so the challenges are well and truly there for our ag sector. Tonight I can only say, through the minister representing Minister Murray Watt: what an incredible job the minister has done in his first six months of being the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, having stared down imminent and deadly biosecurity threats, floods and the varroa mite. If these things were to happen once in any ag minister's time, it would be quite incredible. I know the member for Grey has been around the ag sector a long time, and he's nodding in agreement. I think anyone would agree that the minister has done a fine job.
We know that we have to stare down these challenges, and we know that they include not only changing seasons but also a changing climate, the cost of transport, the cost of trying to get labour—the cost of fertiliser alone! But we know that our ag sector is such an innovative group of people, and they know that there needs to be absolute focus on the future. My main question tonight is: can the minister explain why it is important for the government to work with industry to manage these challenges and imminent threats by delivering more sustainable and climate-smart agriculture and why it is important for the government to support the transition to net zero emissions? Also, can the minister provide an update on the commitment in the budget to provide $302.1 million over the next five years through the Natural Heritage Trust to deliver for a sustainable agricultural sector?
Minister, I'm sure you're aware of the enormous contribution the farming sector makes to Australia. The sector generates more than $50 billion a year in direct returns and $150 billion in total with the value added if food manufacturing is included. The sector is the backbone of our rural towns, and their ability to survive and prosper is of paramount importance. The income these rural communities generate in turn makes a huge contribution in our cities, where many of the jobs in manufacturing and the supply chain are situated. Of equal importance is the role agricultural landholders play in caring for our environment. They manage the vast majority of Australia's landmass. Essential to their prosperity and success is the security of their supply chains and the control of its costs. A major part of that supply chain challenge is fertiliser, in terms of procurement and import and also in terms of supply at a reasonable price.
Australia has some of the oldest and most degraded soils in the world, and, as such, fertilisers are essential building blocks of good farming practice. Australia imports most of our phosphate and nitrogenous fertiliser. There's no good reason for this. After all, we have all the required raw materials right here in this country, and we should be manufacturing locally. I'm pleased to report that, with the recent establishment of Centrex's Ardmore phosphate mine in north-west Queensland, we are on the way to eliminating the import of around 400,000 tonnes a year of phosphorus fertiliser. However, we use around 2.4 million tonnes of nitrogenous fertilisers a year and import about 90 per cent of that. Nitrogen fertiliser is made from natural gas, and Australia is the world's biggest exporter of gas as LNG. That gas, or an equivalent, is then turned into nitrogen fertiliser in another country, and we transport it back to Australia and distribute it for use. Clearly, we should be able to do so much better, especially when we consider how much anxiety the shortage of AdBlue caused 12 months ago. The product is made from urea, and the shortage of AdBlue came about because of an international shortage of urea.
Just in case anyone might think that we could reduce our reliance on fertiliser or that somehow we could cope with a major interruption of supply, we should consider Sri Lanka. In April 2022, in an incredibly misguided attempt to somehow save the environment, they decided to ban chemical based fertiliser. The result was a 35 per cent drop in rice yields and a 50 per cent drop for tea and corn, leading to widespread shortages and an explosion in prices. The policy-induced shortages led Sri Lanka to rely on credits with other nations to feed their citizens. The decision delivered bankruptcy to a poor nation, and, despite its cancellation 12 months later, their farmers, as a result of their losses, have been largely unable to purchase fertiliser for the new crop. It's a man-made disaster. Naturally, Australia's not likely to ban the use of fertiliser, but it does highlight the potential for damage from an interrupted supply, and, given the current tensions of the world and rapidly changing market conditions, who is to say that's not on the cards?
That's why we should develop local capacity. I'm sure the minister is aware that the coalition government provided support for two projects in WA to deliver local urea manufacturing capacity: a $220 million low-interest loan for Perdaman to build their facility on the Burrup Peninsula plus a $255 million low-interest loan to the WA government for an upgrade of port infrastructure. The former government also provided a $2 million grant from the Modern Manufacturing Strategy for Strike Energy to develop a urea plant in the south of the state.
The Perdaman proposal has already attracted a significant amount of criticism. The minister for the environment recently blocked a submission to halt the progress of construction due to concerns relating to Aboriginal arts. Recently, the federal parliament passed bills enshrining a 43 per cent emissions target in legislation. Unlike a general target, which Australian governments have previously set and met, a legislated target has now provided an avenue for third parties to seek judicial intervention to determine whether or not a project should go ahead.
My question to the minister is: can she guarantee that the legislated 43 per cent target will not be used by activist groups to delay or derail these projects, which are so important to Australian farmers and our national security? (Time expired)
The recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease helped bring the importance of strong biosecurity standards and controls to the fore. The agricultural sector, through our livestock, crops and unique natural environment, contributes to a $70 billion export industry. One wrong move, one lapse of judgement, and we could see that all come crashing down, one sector at a time, which would be devastating for so many.
It's not just foot-and-mouth disease that has threatened our industry this year but also lumpy skin disease. This heightened vigilance isn't just a state of mind the federal government is required to be in; it's also one for our state governments and agriculture companies. We can all do our bit to prevent outbreaks from occurring.
I remember a few months ago in my home state when our Royal Adelaide Show required showgoers to avoid touching or feeding livestock without express permission and to not enter animal pavilions if they had been overseas in the past seven days. Even simpler commonsense measures also existed, such as attending with clean shoes and clothes. That's good advice no matter what the circumstances are, but even that can help keep our livestock safe from harm.
Australia's biosecurity system is a strong one, but it has to constantly adapt to new and sometimes unforeseen threats from abroad in order to ensure it will protect the industry and the way of life for the many regional townships that rely on this industry to continue to be on the map. On budget night, I was pleased to see the Treasurer hand down his first budget, which I hope will be his first of many. It is a budget that delivers for agriculture and for keeping the industry safe. This budget includes a substantial level of new and targeted funding for biosecurity. Amongst other reasons, this helps me feel confident that the minister appreciates the importance of strong biosecurity for the regions, including the hundreds of thousands of jobs that the agricultural sector supports.
On the advent of the budget, I have seen many from the other side of the chamber say that the Albanese Labor government does not care about the regions or about agriculture. Their reasoning is because the budget has rolled back their pork-barrelling. I know I'd rather save the pork industry instead, and I'm sure a lot of people out in the regions would too.
In fact, I had the pleasure of joining the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Senator Grogan to visit some locations a little further up my electorate of Spence's northern border, just past Angaston. We visited Keyneton Station sheep farm and discussed enhancing our livestock traceability as an important part amongst a suite of measures we must take to maintain that air of vigilance needed to preserve an industry of such importance to us both for Australia's exports and domestically for our food security.
The government's work alongside industry and state and territory governments to implement an enhanced EID, or electronic identification system, for sheep and goats in each jurisdiction by 1 January 2025 is going to go a long way to ensuring swift action can be taken to curtail any potential disease outbreaks in our livestock. A $46.7 million co-investment was provided in the budget towards this end because all stakeholders should work collaboratively together and feel invested in an industry that provides us with so much.
This government knows that moving towards EID with sheep and goats will exceed national livestock traceability standards, with a 99.64 per cent accuracy, meaning that, in the terrible event that a disease makes its way through, we will recover significantly faster. The minister also outlined on the day the need for a comprehensive and collaborative national agriculture traceability strategy. This is a strategy that will add value to our agriculture exports down the line. When buyers of our livestock know we keep a clean house it adds value, bringing more value to the farm.
My questions for the minister are: can the minister outline measures in the budget that will go towards strengthening Australia's biosecurity, particularly given the emergence of foot-and-mouth disease in our region; and can the minister also provide an update on the government's election commitment to deliver long-term sustainable funding for biosecurity and why this is important for regional Australia?
I rise to speak about Labor's October budget and what it means for agriculture. I wish to provide practical examples of how this budget is nothing more than an attack on our agricultural industry.
Harvest is in full swing in my electorate of Flynn, including on my own property at Taroom. There is no doubt that agriculture is feeding this nation. Food security must be front and centre as we travel towards the future. Minister, how does this Labor government plan not only to feed Australia but to help feed the world, as the Prime Minister has stated?
Diesel power is critical for agriculture, and people who thinks it will be replaced by alternative energy sources in the near future—people just like Chris Bowen, the 'minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction'—are delusional. Labor's budget has committed to increasing heavy vehicle road user charges from the rate of 26.4 cents per litre to 27.2 cents per litre. This means truck drivers will be slugged an extra 0.8 cents tax for every litre of diesel that they use. This will ultimately mean farmers will have to pay more to produce and get their product to market, and consumers will pay more to buy this product at the supermarket. Labor's agenda is to treat regional Australia like a cash cow, and it's an absolute disgrace. Minister, why has the heavy vehicle road user charge increased when we are already seeing record diesel prices?
Whilst they have increased the heavy vehicle road user charge, the $14.5 billion Inland Rail is in doubt, with Labor reviewing this much needed project. Re-examining the route has the potential to ignite community angst about the Inland Rail project, increasing unnecessary uncertainty. The coalition government announced that it had agreed in principle to the extension of the Inland Rail to the port of Gladstone, and committed to a $10 million business case to work with the Queensland government to examine the viability of extending this railway line. Minister, will the Inland Rail be extended to the port of Gladstone?
Gas is required for the production of fertiliser, and supply must be maintained. Water and associated infrastructure needs to be expanded to maintain agricultural production. Labor's own budget forecasts gas prices skyrocketing by 40 per cent in the next two years, yet they have provided no serious policy or investment to alleviate the surge in gas prices. This will directly affect the price of fertiliser, adding extra costs to farm production. The surest way to secure affordable, reliable gas is through increasing supply. Funding for gas exploration has been cut. Labor has gutted $31 million from the exploration of the Cooper and Adavale basins gas plan and $23 million from the Beetaloo by discounting the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program. Minister, why does the Labor government not support further gas exploration?
The budget also scraps $4.6 billion from water projects by not proceeding with the Hells Gates dam project in Queensland. Deferring funding of $899.5 million over four years from the Dungowan dam and pipeline, Emu Swamp dam and pipeline, Hughenden irrigation scheme and the Wyangala Dam wall-raising project and making cuts to water programs are devastating and will impact severely on regional areas. The development of water assets is critical to the future of agriculture and industry in Australia, but this budget does not address this. Minister, why has this funding been cut?
Agricultural land needs to be protected by legislation to counter the onslaught of wind farms, solar farms and transmission lines in our pursuit of the renewable energy sector. Reducing emissions by 43 per cent will require the installation of 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month from now to 2030. It will require more than 22,000 five-hundred-watt solar panels to be installed every day for the next eight years—2.4 for every man, woman and child. Minister, how much land, including prime agricultural land, will be needed to reach this target?
I've learnt the Labor government has signed up to the methane emissions pledge. This is another broken election promise from Chris Bowen, following his backflip on vehicle emissions standards. What activists want is the end of the beef industry. Labor MPs such as Ged Kearney have endorsed calls to reduce meat consumption and move Australians to plant-based diets. (Time expired)
The forestry industry has long been an important contributor to jobs and economic development in regional Australia. In my electorate of Lyons forestry is a keystone industry that provides stable employment harvesting a renewable resource. I've got a big speech here, but I see the minister wants to sum up. I just want to say that Labor supports our forestry industry absolutely 100 per cent. It's a big contributor in my electorate. As I have always said, the future is better with forestry in it. It's a renewable natural resource, and we can't do better than support a sustainable ongoing forestry industry in Tasmania and in Australia. Can the minister outline how new investments in the budget demonstrate the government's commitment to a strong and sustainable forestry industry in Australia?
RMACK () (): Since coming into office, Labor has made a number of questionable decisions when it comes to agriculture. That said, I do appreciate the assistance given to local government areas by the agriculture minister, who doubles as the emergency services minister. When I contacted his office today about the local government area of Cowra, in my seat of Riverina, as well as one in the electorate of the member for Parkes, that being Lachlan, and one in the electorate of the member for Farrer, that being Carrathool, he promised money for the first two and that he would seriously look at Carrathool. I'm sure that, given the need for assistance because of flooding, that will eventuate. I appreciate that he has been to those flood affected areas, because one of the worst hit areas has been agriculture. Many of the crops have been wiped out, which is devastating for those farmers.
I'm also pleased that the minister for infrastructure is in the chamber because I had a good meeting with her earlier this evening in relation to roads. I appreciate the fact that the government is going to address this as far as emergency funding is concerned. I've been calling for this for some time. Whether it is through the funding streams already there or whether the government looks further at it in the budget context next May, the minister has given me assurances that she understands. She is from a regional electorate, from Ballarat in Victoria, and she knows as well as any regional member does—I appreciate that the member for Leichhardt is here—that our roads are very important to us. The weather events in recent weeks and months have made the roads not just atrocious but dangerous. I thank the government for what it is doing in this area to address that.
That said, there are a number of questions that I would put to the minister. Workforce shortages are a huge thing, and the agriculture visa, of course, is very important particularly to the National Party members but to all the regional members of the coalition. The agriculture sector throughout Australia is facing chronic workforce shortages. Indeed, I contacted Kim Houghton from the Regional Australia Institute earlier this week. He told me that there are 93,000 vacancies in regional Australia at the moment. But according to the National Food Supply Chain Alliance, Australia is 172,000 workers short from paddock to plate. They are huge numbers.
There are plenty of vacancies in Australia, and that's why, in government, the federal coalition introduced a major reform—the dedicated ag visa—to bring in the next generation of migrant workers to help build regional Australia. Given the severe shortages in the ag sector in workforce, the government's decision to stop the dedicated ag visa and replace it instead with the PALM scheme is disgraceful. This move makes it so much harder for farmers to find workers. Just 10,800 workers have come to Australia through the PALM scheme since June, and our farmers cannot get the workers they need and are only planting or producing at 60 per cent capacity. You add the level of floods to that, and it makes it just that much more worse. My question is: as part of the memorandum of understanding with Vietnam, when will the implementation details be finalised, Minister? When are the first workers from Vietnam expected to arrive in Australia to help our farmers? It's a serious question, and the opposition would really like an answer to that to help agriculture.
In the time remaining, and whilst I've got the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in the chamber—I appreciate that she's doubling as the representative for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the House of Representatives—I would also like to ask what her vision is for water infrastructure, particularly Wyangala Dam. Raising it by 10 metres to 95 metres adds 650 gigalitres of capacity to the Central West area of New South Wales. It's good for agriculture primarily and brilliant for flood mitigation. Forbes has been flooded, if you count the four peaks this year, eight times in the past 12 years. Before that it was, on average, every seven years since 1887. They are resilient people, Minister, but they are very tired. They are getting weary of sandbagging. You know that, I know that, everybody in the Central West knows that. We haven't got a commitment from state Labor. Will you make that commitment, as part of federal Labor, to invest in that vital piece of water infrastructure?
Thank you, Deputy Speaker, for allowing us to go a little over time today. Can I start by thanking the members who contributed to the debate today. There are a couple of questions that have been raised which are outside the agriculture portfolio but also outside the infrastructure portfolio. The member who's just spoken may not be aware, but, under the administrative orders, water infrastructure has been transferred over to the Environment and Water portfolio. Opportunities in terms of being able to make sure we have a coherent national water policy and in terms of the national water grid would be matters that you'd raise with Minister Plibersek. But there are opportunities in the opening up of that to look at the surety of town water supplies. I am sure you'll raise that there.
I would also say, if you want to compare the agricultural visa, zero people came under that. As I understand it from the department, some 31,000 people have come under the PALM visa, so I'm pretty happy that we can stand on our record in terms of getting agricultural workers into our regions under PALM and actually making sure they're assisting out there. The ag visa, frankly, just did not work. It didn't work, and so we had to change it, and in changing it we've actually brought more people in than the number the previous government did, which was zero.
The member for Flynn raised a whole raft of issues, but I do want particularly to take him up on the heavy vehicle road user charges. He may not be aware, but that decision that states and territories made to raise the road user charge actually happened in April this year. We actually weren't in power at that point in time. It's a very small increase in the road user charge that is focused in particular on trying to make sure that we keep money flowing to look at the damage that is done by the substantial amounts of heavy vehicles, particularly on our country and rural roads. They're increasingly using much smaller roads than they were before, and the vehicles are bigger. We're seeing triple trailers using small country roads in some instances across the country. The road user charge helps us with the damage that is done to country roads. But I would point out to the member really clearly that that actually happened under the previous government while they were in caretaker mode. We actually weren't in government when the decision was taken. In relation to issues around Adblue, I'm really proud to say that Minister Bowen has been doing some terrific work in making sure that we've got surety of supply. We learned the lesson from the previous government. We don't want to be caught short at all In terms of environmental approvals for projects, the normal processes apply in terms of both state and territory governments, as they do through the EPBC Act under this government.
It has been really important in this budget to focus on the sharp end with biosecurity, because we know that, if we fail, when it comes to agriculture, it would be completely and utterly disastrous for the industry. What that has allowed us to do, through some tough decisions in the budget, is add an additional billion dollars, focused on biosecurity. With foot-and-mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and a range of other diseases that we know are in our region, or could be in our region, we know we cannot afford to be complacent. Increasing biosecurity was something those opposite talked about but they didn't do enough to make sure that we filled those critical gaps. As the member for Spence, who raised this issue in particular, has said, we cannot say strongly enough just how important it is to invest money through the budget in biosecurity. Injecting $134.1 million into the system ensures that we can continue to keep Australia safe. This investment is a down payment on our election commitment to deliver sustainable biosecurity funding so that we can respond to increasing threats. I think everyone in the agricultural sector would agree that, if we fail at that, it's all over. That is actually the most important thing that we can do in terms of agriculture.
We've, of course, invested money in national livestock traceability. The member for Spence, who visited a sheep farm just recently in his electorate, noted that we've included $46.7 million towards that livestock contact tracing, which, in the event of a disease outbreak, will be critical. Also, as the member for Paterson raised, we're investing $302 million in sustainable climate-smart agriculture. Our farmers are crying out for that. They are probably at the forefront of this fight, and they know more about the climate than anyone else in this country so I'm proud that we're contributing, through this budget, to putting money into that area as well.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Ordered that consideration in detail of the bill be made an order of the day for the next sitting.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:38