Tuesday, 21 March 2023
Last Friday at Jerilderie I had the enormous privilege and honour to deliver the thirteenth Monash oration. This speech is in honour of Sir General John Monash, 1865 to 1931. He was a soldier, a statesman and an engineer. He played a great part in the shaping of our nation, and he is remembered at Jerilderie, where he spent some of his early life. He is remembered right across this country, as he should be. I know the late great Tim Fischer had a special penchant for John Monash. Indeed, I have visited Sir John Monash's grave, his final resting place, at Brighton General Cemetery in Caulfield South. It's not far from the grave of John Chanter, who was the first member for Riverina in the federation parliament in 1901. These two great men played a large part in helping to define the Riverina and southern New South Wales in those formative years.
The grievance I have is what I told the audience at Jerilderie on Friday. It was disputed by somebody in the audience, in fact. I don't think this gentleman could quite believe the statistics that I read to the room. The Institute of Public Affairs did a survey. It was quite a large survey. We actually—
Well, you can rubbish it all you like, but the statistics are worrying. Member for Dunkley, I think you will agree with me that, when a survey of 1,000 Australians is conducted and the respondents are asked, 'If Australia was in the same position as Ukraine is now, would you stay and fight, or leave the country?' and the results are 'stay and fight' just 46 per cent, 'leave the country' 28 per cent and 'unsure' 26 per cent, adding the results for 'leave the country' and 'unsure' gives a very disturbing 54 per cent. Only 32 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 said they would stay and fight, 40 per cent said they would leave the country and 28 per cent were unsure; and 35 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 said that they would stay and fight, 38 per cent said that they would leave the country and 27 per cent were unsure.
Whether it's conducted by the IPA, Grattan Institute or whatever—it doesn't matter. I don't think the politics should come into it. Those statistics are worrying because it is a thousand people. We've probably swapped political leaders for less. Some of the poll figures used in this place as statistics or political weapons in question time and elsewhere, like down in the public press gallery, take the reflections of a lot fewer than a thousand people, I would say.
The survey also gave the statement, 'Given conflict in Ukraine and growing rivalry between countries in our region, the federal government should do more to teach schoolchildren to be proud of Australian history.' The results were: 'totally agree', 63 per cent—which is an encouraging figure—'totally disagree' 12 per cent; and 'unsure', 25 per cent. I know statistics can be used whichever way you like—there are lies, damn lies and statistics, as they say—but 'total disagree' and 'unsure' make up 37 per cent.
We should be proud of where we are as a nation. All too often, especially in this place, we talk down our nation. I don't, and I know the member for Mitchell doesn't, but all too often we have a bad habit of denigrating where we've come from, what we've done, what we've achieved and how it is that we've got to where we are in 2023. When you hear—and admittedly it's the IPA, but whoever conducted the survey, it was 1,000 young people, so you've got a large cohort saying this—that they would happily leave the country should the situation in Ukraine happen in Australia, and when 12 per cent totally disagree that there should be more teachings in school so that our children are proud of Australian history, that, to me, is something to be very worried about, and it's no wonder that it's my grievance.
In that room at Jerilderie last Friday night were 70 proud patriotic Australians. As I said, one gentleman actually interrupted my address, feeling that he couldn't believe both statistics, but they are true; they are right. They're not correct in terms of what the sentiment should be, but unfortunately and sadly they are what the IPA found. We need to teach in our schools the fact that we have been a proud nation, that we are a proud nation. We've got much to celebrate. On the night, I handed around a Dead Man's Penny. A Dead Man's Penny is a memorial plaque that was struck, and it was the medal from World War I that no family wanted. It was sent to all the families of those who were not coming home. As such, it was a replacement for the soldier who was never going to come home, buried in a foreign field. Many of them were known only unto God. I handed around the Dead Man's Penny for a young fellow, just 24 years old, by the name of William John Mason, from Dubbo. He died of wounds on 5 July 1916. He was a miner. He was somebody who gave his life for our country.
I am very proud, as we all should be, of our military. I know you served with distinction as well, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, and you are well aware of Kapooka. It's a fine establishment, currently headed by Colonel Tim Stone. It turns out the best and the bravest of our soldiers, and I am proud to say that it's near my home town of Wagga Wagga. Indeed, as I often say, Wagga Wagga is the only regional inland centre of its size that's home to all three arms of Defence. We have the Royal Australian Air Force at Forest Hill. If you spend any time in the blue, you end up at Forest Hill; you end up at RAAF Wagga. We've even got a Navy base, which is a long way from the nearest drop of seawater, but we proudly have 80 or so personnel serving there.
Again, we should be proud of our military history, and indeed I am. We've had a Navy presence there since the early 1990s. We've had the Army there since the Second World War and indeed even before hostilities erupted in Europe between 1939 and '45. We had the Air Force taking over a property at Allonville near Forest Hill. But it was only the other day in my local paper—and it goes with the fact that young Australians are too ashamed to fight for their country—that we had an article from an academic, Jenna Price, decrying the investment we were making in defence and saying the money should be spent on social welfare. I think this is a terrible reflection as well, because we've got 80,000 job vacancies in regional Australia at the moment—80,000 jobs going begging for want of people to fill them. Yet we've got somebody from outside our region talking about all the money that we're spending on defence. I appreciate that we've had a $368 billion investment over the past week—and a good investment. And thanks to the Morrison government, that arrangement with AUKUS, with the United Kingdom and the United States, has been sealed. That arrangement with the submarines has been ratified. That is the strong defence investment that we made as a government. But, more than that, the editorial of that day's paper, just last Friday, on the same day I delivered the oration for Sir John Monash, talked about the relationship with the UK as being akin to being wedded to a corpse. I mean, really, in a military town? I know that some of the editorials are often written in a metropolitan city far away and disseminated around the regional papers that this group owns—and more is the pity. But seriously, we should be proud that we are a defence town. I certainly am proud that I belong to a tri-service town and I'm also proud of the fact that I have unmistakable and unshakeable faith in young people who will thankfully stand up and fight for our nation if the need arises.
In the House yesterday there was an acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Iraq war, and of the men and women who served in that conflict. I wanted to point out that all the Australian men and women who were asked to serve—men and women of the ADF, defence officials, diplomats, other security officials—in Iraq did so. Whether they agreed or not with the rule, whether they had issues with the reasoning behind the war, they did their duty—their obligation—and went and served their country in uniform or in their capacity as a security and defence official in Iraq.
There has been a lot of commentary around the last 20 years and what it has meant for Iraqi people. Obviously, we also lost personnel in Iraqi in that conflict as well and we grieve for their families. I want to note on this occasion that I spent a year in Iraq. I was asked to serve as a security and defence official in Iraq. I made it publicly known in some media that I thought the war was wrong, that it was a strategic error, and a humanitarian disaster unfolded. But having said that, the people who did go to Iraq, the Australians who served there, whether they agreed or not with the war, also had a responsibility after the Saddam Hussein regime had been removed to help rebuild that country. They did so professionally and they achieved a lot in that rebuilding. Iraq has had a lot of problems over many years but it is still intact as a sovereign state. Some of that is due to the work that Australians did at the time helping rebuild the political and economic structures of that country during that period. It is important to note the service of all Australians who spent time there.
Closer to home, we know as a government that the cost of living is front of mind for many Australians right now. The basics are costing a lot more. Australians are walking away from the supermarket with less for their money. Rising interest rates are making it harder to pay the mortgage. Many renters are feeling the pressure of costs being passed on, increasing their rent. Surging rents have actually kept many Australians trapped in the rental cycle for prolonged periods. The Albanese government is acutely aware of how difficult it is right now for people just to get by and that is why we are so focused on doing what we can to relieve the pressure on Australians. Although we have been in power for some 10 months, we have actually done a fair bit to relieve that pressure so far. I will just quickly run through a couple of things we have done. There are changes to child care. As many parents will know, childcare costs are such a significant burden. Our cheaper childcare reforms will actually help families save up to 90 per cent on their child care. This will provide much needed relief from 1 July this year and will make child care more affordable and accessible for Australian families, and ensure families with children in care are better off.
The Albanese government has also reformed paid parental leave. This reform recently passed the parliament. It will now better meet the needs of modern Australian families, with a single paid parental leave. From 1 July, new parents will be able to use a total of 20 weeks leave as they choose, sharing the leave however it works best for that particular family. Parents will also be able to access leave in multiple blocks of as small as one day, with periods of work in between. The new combined family income limit will also see an additional nearly 3,000 parents become eligible to access paid parental leave and have access to that 20 weeks of paid parental leave, an increase from 18 weeks. This is just a start. There's more to do to help working families, and we will be delivering on paid parental leave of 26 weeks in 2026.
We're also delivering on cheaper medicine. That has already occurred. Over 3.2 million prescriptions were cheaper in the first two months of this year. Thanks to our policy, which came into effect on 1 January, Australians have saved more than $36 million since that time. The maximum out-of-pocket cost for most medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is now $12.50 lower. For a family relying on two or three medications, that's going to put as much as $450 back into the household budget, back into people's pockets. That's real. That's making a difference to people. It's delivering real savings. Actions taken by the Labor government, the Albanese government, are relieving the pressure on families.
We're also working to strengthen Medicare and reduce the pressure on hospitals. That's part of our $750 million Strengthening Medicare funding package, which will implement the recommendations of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report. We're delivering $220 million in infrastructure grants to strengthen general practice and we're delivering 50 urgent care centres, which will be rolled out over the course of this year. We're committed to making it easier for people to see their GP. We're expanding the seniors health card, helping more Australians access cheaper medicines on their visits to the GP. The government is committed to this because it's ensuring Australians receive the quality health care they deserve.
We are all aware—I think it's a fact we all know—that Russia's illegal, abhorrent invasion of Ukraine has led to energy prices going to historic levels globally. As much as the opposition want to politicise this, it's just a fact, a reality of that war. The Albanese Labor government has taken action, though, to help shield Australians from the worst of those rising energy costs. Last week's release of the draft default market offer, the DMO, for electricity showed increases that are up to 29 percentage points lower than the Australian Energy Regulator projected late last year. That wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for the action taken by the Albanese government to cap prices late last year, when we were called back to parliament—all of us remember this—and we were asked to cap the prices of domestic coal and gas. If we hadn't done that, the increases would've been much more significant. There are estimates of around 40 to 50 per cent instead of 20 to 22 per cent.
That Energy Price Relief Plan includes consumer and small business rebates to protect Australians from the worst of the rising energy costs. It included targeted relief on power bills to households receiving income support, pensioners, Commonwealth seniors health card holders, family tax benefit A and B recipients, and small business customers. That was the investment into those people, those Australians. And I have got to say that those opposite said no. They voted against that relief. That's also a fact that can never actually be changed. We came back because we knew how serious this was. We recalled parliament, we came back to vote on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill, and those opposite voted no. They voted no to relief.
O pposition member s interjecting—
You voted no, and you voted no, and you voted no to that relief, and those facts will be there indelibly in the Hansard record, in the historical record. You opposed price relief for all of those Australians, and that is something that you are responsible for. Thankfully, we got it through the parliament and it is having an effect, as I said.
Lastly, I do want to touch on something else that they might be opposing—I hope not. We all know that safe and affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians. It's something I personally understand, as does the Minister for Housing and the Prime Minister. We grew up in housing commission. We're all housos and proud of it because it gave us a roof over our heads. It gave us stability. It was something that allowed us to then maximise our potential and our contribution to this great country.
So many Australians are struggling with rising rents, struggling with mortgage payments and struggling to buy a home. Sadly, too many are facing or experiencing homelessness. That's why our government is committed to the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and is putting that in place. That's 30,000 new social and affordable homes. It's the most significant investment in generations, and it will deliver our commitments to help address acute housing needs. It will provide $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvement of housing in remote Indigenous communities. It will ensure Australians have access to safe and affordable housing, reduce the pressure on the rental market, help provide 40 per cent of the purchase price and repayments for a new home in the Help to Buy Scheme for an existing home.
This is a government focused on addressing the housing and rental crisis, and those opposite want to oppose it—again. You're going to go down in history as opposing all the types of support necessary for Australians to get through this difficult period, and you should be ashamed of that.