House debates

Wednesday, 2 August 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Child Abuse

3:21 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The importance of supporting Australian families.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:22 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no more important matter for this parliament or indeed for Australian society to consider at the moment than the protection of children, the most vulnerable in our society. I think many Australians—every Australian—will have been shocked by the news in the last couple of days about a grotesque individual who's alleged to have committed some 1,623 child abuse offences, including 136 counts of rape and 110 counts of sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and 604 counts of indecent treatment of a child. The most important asset of any family is a child or children of that relationship, particularly younger toddlers and infants, those who deserve the protection of not just their families but those who have been charged with the responsibility to take care of them in the absence of their parents.

The reason I think this is a very important matter for the parliament to contemplate today is that the news cycle, as we know, moves on so quickly. World events and domestic events mean that the papers' headlines quickly disappear and the online version of the next story is quickly posted. Sometimes this subject matter is too shocking for families to discuss. Sometimes the detail is so depraved that you want to starve your children, social groups or contacts of the actual detail of particular incidents. But it is proper for our country to stop and pause at the time of these significant events because the children who are involved—all young girls who are now, in many cases, in their early 20s—will have had their lives changed forever. I acknowledge that even the conversation that we're having today or the newspaper reports that we've seen over the last couple of days will be a trigger for other victims of child sexual abuse. The discussion of the very topic will be very difficult for them and for their loved ones to contemplate.

But it is appropriate and absolutely necessary that we remind ourselves that people of this character infiltrate our society and that people in positions of responsibility commit these most egregious acts against those who are most vulnerable in our society.

Today we recognise the efforts of the Australian Federal Police, particularly those officers who are attached to the Australian Centre To Counter Child Exploitation, the police officers, the investigators, the analysts, and all of those from the Queensland Police Service and the New South Wales Police Force and their international counterparts. This is a very significant investigation that's gone on for some 10 years or so. It has spanned across states and jurisdictions.

We know that the prevalence of child sexual abuse is at record levels because of the use of digital technology. We know that—I want to say a human being—an individual here in Australia can direct a movie taking place in the Philippines of a child being sexually abused and penetrated and can direct from afar the actual abuse of that child. It's incomprehensible on many levels, but it needs to be spoken about because we can't pretend that it's not happening or think that, if we don't speak about it and ignore it, the problem will go away and our children won't be affected by the next offender.

It is one of those crime types where, unlike the stories you'll see on the news tonight of a stolen car or footage of a robbery or an assault that's taken place and a victim that's interviewed, we don't see the victims' faces in this crime type. We don't hear the detail even of, in some cases, the offender's name because of the protections, rightly or wrongly, under the law. And the impact on the victims, on the investigators and on our society is enduring.

As the Minister for Home Affairs, I'm incredibly proud of the work that we did to establish the Australian Centre To Counter Child Exploitation. It was a $70 million investment. In my budget reply speech, I called for the government—and we would certainly support and welcome an announcement by the government—to double the work and the funding to the Australian Centre To Counter Child Exploitation. It's essential because the work continues to compound. The investigation is more complex. We read in relation to this particular matter that a child's cot sheet was identified after painstaking work by the investigators to have been provided by a particular linen supplier to childcare centres, which led to the offender being identified in relation to that particular matter. That takes gruelling, hard work and investigative capacity, and additional support needs to be provided. I think that much is clear.

In highlighting this case today, I do believe that our parliament has a continuing responsibility to do everything we can to protect the children of this country, to make sure that we protect their sanctity and their innocence to allow every Australian child to grow up in a harmless environment that's conducive to the development of their mental health, to make sure that they have the best capacity to form functional, interpersonal relationships later in life. But if we allow this to just slide into yesterday's newspaper, then we won't be doing a service to the work of the investigators here, and we won't be helping those investigators send a message of deterrence to the person who's thinking about offending next. That's why I think it is incredibly important for the government to stop as well and listen to this issue and make the decision in relation to additional support. As I said, we would very much welcome the Prime Minister's efforts in that regard.

I also want to put on the record our very strong interest in supporting government action in relation to a child sex offenders registry. I believe the time has come. There's been much debate about this in recent years from people in favour, people against and people of good character who argue for and against the establishment of a registry.

But I do believe that we need a parliamentary joint task force to be established to review the effectiveness of working with children checks and to carry forward as a matter of urgency the establishment of a national child sex offenders registry, which I proposed as Minister for Home Affairs. The debate and the time for serious contemplation of that registry has now come, given the circumstances where an individual, over a protracted period of time, could work at multiple points where young children are supposed to be cared for and could commit these offences undetected in so many workplaces amongst so many other colleagues, parents and children. It was through no fault of any of those people that the attention of the police wasn't drawn to the particular offences. The registry may have been one element that could have averted further victims falling at the hands of this individual in relation to the alleged offences that have taken place.

The engagement of the states obviously is absolutely necessary, but, for our country, the time has come. There are certainly many international jurisdictions where a registry operates successfully. There is the opportunity in our country for that debate to now be had. And I hope that, in the time that we spend in the chamber today, we send a clear message of support to all of those who are involved in protecting children around the country—not just the government investigative bodies but also the not-for-profits: organisations like the Daniel Morcombe Foundation and those who are involved in spreading a message in childcare centres, other places of education and workplaces.

I say to all Australian families: please take the time tonight to have the conversation with your children and to go to the websites that are trustworthy: the eSafety Commissioner's work, the work of the Morcombe foundation and many others. Look there at the ways in which you can further empower and inform your children, because to do so will protect the most vulnerable in our society. For all of us here, that is the most important duty that we can undertake.

3:32 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

As a father of three boys, I found yesterday's television stories utterly gut-wrenching. To see these accounts of a number of allegations is just extraordinary. I'd encourage anyone who is distressed by the news to seek support. The government thanks the hardworking officers of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and the Queensland and New South Wales police for their dedication to the case. They didn't give up until they identified all of the alleged victims.

It's important to remember that the matter is currently before the courts. We in this parliament have the liberty to speak about any matters we wish, but it has not been unknown for past court cases to be derailed, so I'd urge all those speaking on this matter of public importance debate to be careful. The Leader of the Opposition, as a former police officer, knows better than anyone to be careful in all of our words in what we say to ensure we do not jeopardise the work of the police.

The Albanese government has been working with all Australian jurisdictions on the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse, underpinned by an initial investment of some $300 million over four years. The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation received additional funding in our budget. The Minister for Education has asked the independent Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority to undertake a review of child safety arrangements, recognising these heinous events. The government will receive the authority's interim reports in October.

As we talk about the importance of supporting Australian families, it is also vital that the opposition does in this parliament what the MPI says it will do.

My day today started with a visit to Ochre Medical Centre in Gungahlin with the terrific Minister for Health and Aged Care, who's here in the chamber. We were talking about the three important measures that the government has brought forward to take cost-of-living pressure off Australian households: tripling the bulk-billing incentives; delivering cheaper medicines, benefiting some 11 million Australians; and putting in place 60-day prescribing, which will benefit some six million Australians—a measure which, alas, is being opposed by those opposite. I then arrived in parliament and joined colleagues in seeing the Minister for Housing reintroduce the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. The coalition oppose putting downward pressure on house prices, and every day of delay to the HAFF means 16 homes that aren't built. Then, shortly afterwards, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Bill passed the parliament. That raises payments by $40 across a whole range of payments, but the coalition tried to amend it to remove that rise. So having had these three measures today, where the government is looking to support Australian families and the opposition is opposing support for Australian families, I find it surprising to have the opposition talking about the importance of supporting Australian families.

Right now, unemployment in Australia is at a 50-year low. Our government has delivered half a million jobs, better jobs growth than any government on record over our first year. We have brought down a budget which reduced inequality by more than any budget in the past decade. Inflation is going to be three-quarters of a point lower as a result of the measures in the budget, according to Treasury modelling. The Reserve Bank governor has said:

I don't think that the budget is adding to inflation, it's actually reducing inflation in the next financial year.

Inflation over the last quarter was 0.8 per cent, less than half of the 2.1 per cent that it hit during the coalition's last quarter in office.

In my remaining time, let me just go through 10 examples in which the coalition have failed to support Australian families. First, they voted against energy bill relief, calling our Energy Price Relief Plan 'Venezuelan communism'.

Second, they voted against coal and gas price caps, another vital measure which ensures that our manufacturers don't pay wartime gas prices and households don't go to the wall as a result of price spikes in the global energy market. They failed to support that.

Third, they're voting against more housing, including housing for women and children fleeing family violence. They say that they're supporting housing supply, but, when it comes to supporting Australian families by getting more housing built, they're refusing to do it.

Fourth, they're opposing 480,000 fee-free TAFE places. A great way of supporting Australian families is to ensure that, when Australians want to get a trade qualification, they're able to go out there and do it, and yet the deputy Liberal leader said that providing 480,000 fee-free TAFE places was 'a waste of taxpayer dollars'.

Fifth, they're opposing cheaper electric vehicles, an important support for Australian families and an important measure in our green energy transition.

Sixth, they're refusing to report the Rewiring the Nation plan, this important investment in the electricity grid which in turn supports Australia families through more affordable power.

Seventh, they're refusing to support 60-day prescribing, a measure which benefits six million Australians. It allows many Australians with many medicines to pay just half as much in order to get those essential medicines. Instead of supporting patients, the coalition are supporting the lobby group. Instead of supporting Australian families, particularly those with high medicines costs, they are playing cheap, populist politics.

Eighth, they're opposing cheaper child care.

Earlier this week the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, and the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Anne Aly, met with parents Blanca and Chris in Nicholls in my electorate. They have a daughter, three-year-old Paloma. Blanca said that, as a result of Labor's policy to make child care cheaper, she was able to make the choice to increase her working days from three to four, doing important work as a lawyer working for the government.

Yet when my party introduced cheaper child care the member for Wannon called it 'communism'. It's a bit of a theme: cheaper energy prices—communism; cheaper child care—communism. The shadow finance minister, Senator Hume said, 'It's certainly not the policy that we would have introduced.'

Ninth, those opposite are failing to support Australian families by refusing to back our measures to get wages moving. Of our industrial relations changes, Senator Cash said they would 'shut down Australia.' Under the former coalition government, wage stagnation cost the average worker $16,000 compared to what would have happened if wage growth had been at the levels of the former Labor government. Under us, we've seen the minimum wage up nearly $3 an hour and the gender pay gap at a historic low.

Tenth, those opposite are opposing a voice to parliament. For Indigenous families, a voice to parliament is a way of being heard on issues around employment, education and health care. If you want to support Indigenous families, you need to support a voice to parliament.

In our time in office we've delivered an aged-care pay rise of 15 per cent for 250,000 workers, delivered10 days family violence leave, boosted Commonwealth rent assistance by the largest amount in 30 years, expanded eligibility for the single parenting payment and delivered the first surplus in 15 years.

Finally, if we're talking about supporting families, let's think about the victims of robodebt. As one witness, Ms Bevan, said:

I'd often go without food so that my kids could have more food. I wouldn't buy lunch or anything, I'd just have breakfast and leftovers of what the boys didn't eat …

A party that claims to support Australian families should admit what it did wrong with robodebt and acknowledge the importance of that never happening ever again.

3:42 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I would join the Leader of the Opposition with regard to his remarks about the heinous alleged crimes perpetrated against 91 precious young Australian girls. It was he, as the Minister for Home Affairs, who set up the agency the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, in conjunction with the AFP, the Queensland Police Service and the New South Wales Police Force, who were able to uncover these shocking and distressing alleged crimes. I would like to pay tribute to the Leader of the Opposition for his dedication to our youngest Australians, to the children of our nation. Today my thoughts remain with those victims and the families of those victims.

The member for Fenner said that the opposition didn't support cheaper child care. To be clear, Member for Fenner, the opposition supports anything that supports Australian families. But the truth of the matter is that out-of-pocket costs have gone up for Australian families. The truth is that the Labor government's policy on cheaper child care—$4.7 billion—has not delivered to every family, as they promised. They were promised cheaper child care by the Prime Minister. I've lost track of how many times he's said the phrase 'cheaper child care', using early learning centres as the backdrop for his political props.

In the lead-up to the last election he told parents and families that Australian families would be better off under Labor and that their out-of-pocket costs would be lower. That's easy to do for a government who have no idea what they're doing and did no due diligence to ensure the policy would work as they promised. Then 1 July happened, and what the government thought would be a huge win for them turned into a massive fail. Imagine promising families time and time again they would be better off and then standing by and watching as billions of dollars were immediately eaten up by inflation and higher fees.

We know that Labor is bad with economics, but how embarrassing this must be for the government.

According to the Parenthood, 90 per cent of Australian families have watched their early childhood education fees increase in recent weeks. Remember, last time Labor was in government, fees skyrocketed by 53 per cent in just six years. They've already increased eight per cent in the last nine months. My office has been inundated with emails from families who are further out of pocket now than they were before 1 July. This includes Sarah in Jamisontown, who watched her fees rise by $18 a day, and Naomi in Rothwell, who's now paying $45 more a day for her two children. The Prime Minister promised families they would be better off, but what I'm hearing is that families are out of pocket and they're struggling to pay their rent or mortgages, their bills and their early learning fees.

Labor like to claim they support families, but, when you look at their policies and their track record, they simply have not delivered for Australian families and they have failed to deliver with this policy. Four point seven billion dollars: that's how much Labor's cheaper child care policy cost—$4.7 billion, and I haven't met a family who claim they are better off now than they were 12 months ago; $4.7 billion, and yet the number of families stuck on waiting lists continues to grow; $4.7 billion, and not one single dollar will be spent to create one additional place at a centre or increase access for new or existing families.

During the winter break, I spent some time travelling through regional and rural South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, speaking with parents and families who have no access to early learning, who cannot return to work and whose children cannot experience the wonderful benefits of early learning. It's no wonder those parents are absolutely angry. I've asked the department why and I've asked the minister why, and I can't get a straight answer to why communities who most need access are being left behind by this Labor government. Labor has left regional communities and those families behind, and it's disgraceful. It's an absolute disgrace.

It has become pretty clear the Albanese government have no idea what they are doing. They have no plan to increase access, no plan to address rising fees and no plan to fix the workforce concerns. With out-of-pocket costs rising again, Australian families deserve to know why they always pay more under Labor.

3:47 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I join the previous speakers in noting how shocked we all are by that case of sexual abuse, and the distress and the unimaginable horror and pain that the victims and their families must be feeling right now. I also think it's important to encourage anyone who is distressed by this to seek support at this time. I do also want to acknowledge the Australian Federal Police and thank them for their hard work—and all the police services and others who were involved in this case. It's going to be a very difficult period for those families, going forward.

In the MPI today, we're talking about Australian families. They are one of the highest priorities of the Albanese government because we know that the cost of living and the pressures of the cost of living are front of mind for so many Australians. We know the economic downturns around the globe have impacted Australians negatively. Those factors mean that the basics cost more and have cost more. Obviously, we know that the rising interest rates over a period of time have made it much harder to pay the mortgage, for those who have mortgages, and people are grappling as well with increased rents and pressure in the housing market.

But, unlike the coalition when they were in government, we are taking action in this space. We are very focused on relieving the pressure for Australians that are finding it so hard to get by. We know that inflation is the biggest challenge, and that's why the Treasurer and the government have been focused on a budget that takes the pressure off inflation and at the same time delivers cost-of-living relief, and that invests in lifting the capacity of the economy as well. Of course inflation is higher than we'd like to be, but the latest CPI data shows that we're heading in the right direction.

The 2023 budget—such a contrast to the previous government's lack of effort—provides substantive cost-of-living relief for Australians.

It is the biggest ever investment in bulk-billing and lowering of the cost of medicines. So many families, pensioners and people with debilitating chronic conditions no longer have to pay more for their medicines. That's significant. It's meant better pay and conditions and more job security for aged-care workers, with the critically important work that they do. And we're providing real energy bill relief for more than five million eligible households and one million eligible small businesses. That's real relief, and it's flowing through now from the budget and the decisions that were made.

We're increasing the base rate for eligible recipients of JobSeeker, Austudy, youth allowance and other working-age payments, as well as supporting 57,000 single parents by expanding eligibility for parenting payments. We're also increasing the maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance by 15 per cent. This is the biggest increase in three decades. Our budget also focused on supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs to commercialise their ideas and grow their businesses. And we're giving Australians the skills they need to secure jobs, providing 300,000 fee-free TAFE places and more university places. I think the Prime Minister noted today that some 140,000 Australians have already benefited from those TAFE places.

Much of the support is being rolled out as we speak. This is real. I know these MPIs can get into a bit of a partisan debate and a bit of movement and colour. But these are facts. These are things that are actually helping Australians right now, and they're benefiting Australian families. That will keep happening over the coming weeks and months. As a government we're also pursuing, as you all know, the ambitious $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which is all about giving Australians safe access to affordable housing and reducing the pressure on the Australian rental market. As someone who grew up in public housing—and the Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing also grew up as 'housos', like me—I'm very passionate about this fund, because it provides a roof over people's heads and a safe place to live. That public housing gave me and my migrant family a fair start in life, alongside access to education. It literally opened the door to opportunity.

It is remarkable—it's astonishing—that the coalition, possibly through their cruelty, are opposing this and have teamed up with the self-indulgent, populist Greens political party to block 30,000 affordable homes to be built over the next five years, 4,000 of which would be for women experiencing domestic violence, as well as funding for Indigenous housing and for veterans. It is remarkable. I encourage them to get over the political posturing and the partisanship and support the housing fund.

3:52 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I start I want to acknowledge the profound words of the Leader of the Opposition in response to the horrifying news we have received in the last 24 hours: the child abuse case that is now moving forward in terms of its investigation. Every one of us in this House—it doesn't matter which side we sit on—have families. Our children are the most precious thing to us. Our grandchildren are the most precious thing to us. To hear this news is confounding, frankly. I want to honour the work of the Leader of the Opposition in his previous roles. I think together, in a bipartisan way, we want to see this situation rectified.

This Albanese Labor government talks about all the measures they're taking to ease the cost-of-living crisis which is crippling Australian families. My focus is on the one-third of Australian families who happen to live in regional Australia, who always get the short end of the stick when Labor is in power—the forgotten Australians. Regional families are struggling to make ends meet. They can't afford to put food on the table. Their energy bills are exploding out of control. And in my electorate of Malley people can't work, because there is no child care available.

The Prime Minister's contempt for Australian families who are doing it tough was on full display for all to see yesterday. When I asked him in question time what he could do for my constituent Brendan Reinheimer, a father of a young family whose electricity bill just went up by $970, what was his answer? The Prime Minister blamed the coalition for voting against his energy relief bill in the Senate.

I would remind the House that the measure actually passed into legislation, but it actually hasn't made a dent of difference to Brendan's electricity bill; it has still gone up by $970. I suppose the Prime Minister would have the same contempt for Steve Cross and his family of five, who have seen their electricity bill rise by a whopping $1,280. His promise of $275 relief on energy bills sounds like a bad joke, frankly, to the struggling families who are living in my electorate.

The Labor government continues to grandstand day after day while families in regional Australia literally cannot afford to keep the lights on. It is obscene. As the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister make clear, the Labour government's $5.4 billion childcare subsidy has been exposed as poor policy, as it is overlaid by skyrocketing fees and no relief for those who live in regional towns, especially in my electorate of Mallee, where there is no child care. Goodstart Early Learning operate four centres across Mallee and have increased their fees by nearly eight per cent, which they argue funds increased wages and increased operating costs. Nationwide, fees are rising in some cases by more than 15 per cent, piling pressure on Australians during the Labor government's cost-of-living crisis. Families across Mallee have told me of their inability to access child care, which renders any taxpayer funded subsidy 100 per cent useless. The dire situation of childcare deserts in Mallee has a flow-on effect for the workforce, which is experiencing severe shortages in sectors such as health, aged care and education. Labor's one-size-fits-all, policy-on-the-run approach has failed Mallee mums and dads.

Billions of dollars in subsidies makes for a flashy Labor headline, but where was the mechanism to prevent that subsidy being eaten up by higher fees? And what is their answer to regional towns with no child care at all? A subsidy is about as useful as a headless hammer if there are no childcare facilities and no workforce in the first place. How are families in Mallee who can't work due to lack of child care going to pay for the Prime Minister's renewable bonanza? What is Labor's answer to these skyrocketing energy prices that are sending families over the financial cliff? They'll just keep ramming through their ideological agenda to reach 82 per cent renewables by 2030 whatever the cost to families and whatever the cost to regional communities. They must do better.

3:57 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am really pleased to be able to speak on this matter of public importance on how the Albanese government is supporting Australian families, because as a mum myself, raising my family of four children on the New South Wales South Coast, I see firsthand what local families are going through. It is difficult for families, but that is why I am proud to be part of a government that is helping make families a priority. The Albanese Labor government has accomplished so much in such a short time.

Let's start with cheaper child care. A few weeks after the Albanese Labor government's cheaper childcare measures began to take effect, I met with local mum Lisa from Gerringong. Lisa told me that our cheaper childcare measures were great for her family. Lisa told me that cheaper child care means she doesn't have to choose between progressing her career as a health professional and being a mum. That's a huge win. I don't want to see a situation where people must choose between having a family and progressing their career. In Lisa's case, the Albanese Labor government's cheaper childcare measures are helping her have both. But cheaper child care isn't just good for Lisa's family, because Lisa works in health care and she works with children. Cheaper child care allowed Lisa to do another day at work per week. As part of her work, she could then help other families whose children needed her specialised services. Cheaper child care is about doing what's right, letting people make the choices they need and allowing them to do what is best for their family. That's just one example.

Just today, legislation passed in the parliament that will strengthen the safety net for around two million people across the country. Two million Australians will soon benefit from cost-of-living relief through our improved safety net. Commonwealth rent assistance is going to increase by 15 per cent. This will add an average of $24 to the monthly payment for people receiving rent assistance. The legislation will also help single parents. Because of this new safety net, 57,000 single parents with children aged eight and above will also now be eligible for the higher parenting payment for single parents.

This will add at least $176.90 per fortnight to the support that single parents with a child under 14 receive—and, might I add, 90 per cent of the single parents who will receive the payment are single mothers.

But it's not only that. We've increased the base rate of working-age and student payments, including JobSeeker, youth allowance, Austudy, Abstudy, living allowance and disability support pension for youth carers. I'm proud to be part of a government that is strengthening the safety net to protect people and their families.

Another measure we're implementing to help with the cost of living and helping families is our cheaper medicines policy. With the approval of their doctor, eligible people will be able to get double the medicine for the price of a single script. That's 320 medications on the PBS that Australians will be saving on. Sixty-day dispensing is smart policy because it saves patients money and it's good for health, and it helps free up more GP appointments for those that need them most. And all savings from the implementation of the 60-day dispensing will be reinvested back into pharmacy.

One of these new measures is the Regional Pharmacy Transition Allowance. This new transition allowance will mean significant support for community pharmacy over four years. In my electorate, many pharmacies are classified as MM5, meaning that many will qualify for over $338,000 in support. The Regional Pharmacy Transition Allowance is in addition to the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance. On that note, we've doubled the total budget for the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance. This means that many pharmacies where I live will be eligible for over $70,000 in assistance. That totals hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to help our valued community pharmacies.

The Albanese Labor government is taking care of health in our communities and supporting community pharmacies to pay a bigger role in the health care of our communities. And there is more to come. But it is safe to say that the Albanese Labor government is working hard to address the cost-of-living pressures on Australians and their families.

4:02 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention) Share this | | Hansard source

We often charge ahead in this place, really focused on what we're doing. The opposition leader today managed to really stop us with a shudder. Families send their children to child care because it's a safe space, not only for learning but for the care of their child, and it is so sickening to hear those reports that the AFP have arrested somebody for the alleged sexual abuse of almost 100 children. Just having that figure is a horrible thing to imagine, and I commend the Leader of the Opposition for shining a light on child exploitation, not only today in the chamber but throughout his whole career. I know it's something that he is really passionate about doing something about.

It is particularly concerning to hear about the terrible trajectory of child exploitation online. I know, from hearing from charities in my shadow portfolio of mental health, that there seems to be an increase in young people reporting sextortion by overseas crime gangs, and this is something that should be a priority of our parliament. As the opposition leader said, there is no bigger responsibility of parliamentarians than protecting our most vulnerable. So I thank him and acknowledge him sincerely for bringing this to our attention, as uncomfortable and horrible as it is.

Moving on to the debate today around families—and again, it's hard to move on to anything other than what we just talked about, because it is absolutely essential—protecting families and representing families and communities is what it's all about. When I'm speaking to people across my community about what matters most to them and the impact of the cost of living on not only them but also their children and their families, they're telling me that they're really struggling right now. They're struggling with energy prices; they're struggling with their mortgage repayments and their rent increases; they're struggling with child care.

I know this because I put out a survey and had thousands of responses.

I held a tele town hall. This came back loud and clear. We discussed many things, including the $275 that was promised to them. This actually means something to them. It's not a figure that should have been just plucked out of thin air. Young people, families and seniors are all concerned about the cost of living. Mums and dads, as I said, are trying to put their kids through child care while trying to work.

The substantial rises in childcare fees are taking their toll. I have one example of Chloe from Glenmore Park in my Lindsay electorate. She is a single mom with three children. She works five days a week and needs access to child care. Her children attend a centre in Regentville, which has increased its fees to $170.35 per day. This is unaffordable for Chloe. The out-of-pocket fees have risen almost 50 per cent. The additional costs will mean that this financial year's pay rise for her will go straight to paying the increases in childcare costs.

The government's policies on early childhood and child care are not adequately supporting families. I have another example of this. Sarah from Glenmore Park reached out to me about increases in costs at the childcare centre her child attends in Jamisontown. It has raised its fees by over 11 per cent. She said that there are no changes for her childcare subsidy. She said:

I'm not sure how anyone can expect women to remain in the workforce when it costs so much to send children to daycare. I wonder how many women will actually have to pull their kids out of daycare, because they can't afford it anymore. Those women then stop paying super, and down the track become a burden on the system because they couldn't work and couldn't contribute to their retirement. It makes no sense.

The most important point she raised was about this Labor government's wrongful narrative on its childcare policies. She said:

It has honestly just been so demoralising to realise I won't be saving anything on daycare after hearing for so long that a new subsidy would bring some relief.

We know cost-of-living pressures are stressing Australian families. We should be doing more about it.

4:07 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In this MPI discussion the member for Moncrieff and the member for Mallee have spoken about the pressures on Australian families—from energy costs to mortgage payments and childcare costs. They are right—Australian families are doing it tough. Inflation takes the most from those who have the least to give, and many Australians are suffering the triple whammy of high inflation. They are suffering, first, from higher prices; second, from higher mortgage interest rates driven by those higher prices; and, third, from an erosion of their real wages as the prices take away their purchasing power. That is why this government—and I acknowledge the work of the Assistant Treasurer and the Treasurer—has made inflation its core focus.

What those families suffering from inflation want and what all Australians want is real help. They don't want grandstanding in this parliament, political pointscoring and slogans. They want real help with the pressures they face every day. Let's go through each of those pressures, what they really mean to Australians and what's really happening.

The first is health. They're right that the cost of health is going up. The health component of the CPI was up 4.9 per cent over the last year. This is a big expense for many people. We should note that it went up a massive 37 per cent under the coalition government between 2013 and 2022—a 37 per cent increase in the health component of the CPI. Health prices rose by 2.3 per cent in the last quarter of the coalition government. That was the last figure they left us with on a quarterly basis.

The happy news is that in the very last quarter, the most recent quarter of the Albanese Labor government, the health component of the CPI has been flat—in fact, it is very slightly negative. The coalition delivered 37 per cent increases in health costs over the period of their government and left us with a quarterly number of 2.3 per cent, but it is now just slightly below zero. That's good news for Australian families. We've acted on that: $3.5 billion to triple the bulk-billing incentive, immediately benefiting 85,000 people in my electorate of Parramatta; and 60-day prescriptions so that Australians save on their prescriptions and have to go to the doctor less frequently, helping nearly 37,000 people in my electorate of Parramatta.

Not only did they leave us with incredibly high inflation in health; they are voting against many of these measures. Why? Because they don't care about actual solutions; they just want a political dividend.

Let's go to energy, another significant area of concern for many Australian families where costs are rising significantly. What did the coalition government leave us with in their last quarter of the CPI in energy? 6.3 per cent, quarter on quarter. What was the most recent quarter of the Albanese government, the quarter that has just passed; the latest print? The CPI for gas in June 2023 was -1.2 per cent. We've gone from 6.3 down to -1.2. Why is it coming down? Because of energy price relief, because of the gas policy to keep prices down. We've acted very directly to support people with rising energy costs. They, of course, left us with rising costs and then opposed the measures to resolve it.

Let's go to the third one: housing. Housing costs have been increasing significantly right across Australia for many years. In my electorate, 30 per cent of people are in housing stress, which means that more than one-third of their disposable income is going to meet interest payments, rent payments or other housing costs. During the last government, the CPI on housing increased by 20.2 per cent over their years in government. In the last quarter of the coalition government, what did they leave us with? Again, they left us with CPI and housing running at 2.7 per cent quarter on quarter. Now, a familiar pattern: what is the last quarter of the Labor government? What has the Albanese government just printed on the housing CPI? 0.8 per cent. They left us with 2.7, quarter on quarter, and it's now down at 0.8. Once again, this government is acting. It is reducing the pressure on families. In my electorate, $32 million was shared with the New South Wales government to build social and affordable homes in North Parramatta, part of the $575 million in the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation.

Let's move on to food. Again, going up a lot. The food CPI went up 20 per cent in the period of that coalition government from 2013 to 2022. In the last quarter they left it running, on a quarterly basis, at 2.8 per cent, the last print of the Morrison government. The latest quarter of this government was 1.6—down from 2.8 to 1.6. This government has been acting on every element of the CPI. We've actually been taking pressure off families, and the numbers show it.

4:12 pm

Photo of Aaron VioliAaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

First, I want to echo the words of the opposition leader. They were shocking and terrible allegations that we all read about yesterday. Like any parent, when you read them it's that sinking feeling in your stomach. I want to echo his words and thank the work of the AFP and the police that are involved in that investigation. They, too, will struggle for many years, I'm sure, with the trauma of what they've done.

I will move to families. I commend the member for Parramatta. As one of the government ministers said today, he's very distinguished and accomplished. He gave some extraordinarily impressive numbers. The wonderful thing about numbers is that the numbers are the numbers, but they don't exist in the real world. This is sometimes the problem in this House. We talk about the numbers and we don't talk about the real world. He was very quick to talk about those inflation numbers.

There were a couple of things that happened in the world around that time. We talk about things that happened in the real world. I think most of us remember COVID. COVID existed. They don't remember COVID. COVID didn't exist in 2020 at all. It had no impact on the numbers that the member for Parramatta referenced. It was all the government of the day. COVID didn't exist and didn't have any impact on any of the economic challenges that we faced at that time. The invasion of Ukraine apparently did not happen in this world. The Treasurer likes to talk about that one-quarter that had significant inflation. That was the quarter that Russia invaded Ukraine—shock, horror! That's what it's about with this government. It's all about spin. It's not about dealing with what's happening in the real world.

Child care is another issue that is significant for many families. I'm fortunate in my electorate of Casey that we've got a wonderful organisation called Mums of the Hills. It was founded by Belinda after she fell off a ladder and was injured. She had a moment of realisation that she was completely isolated at home. She'd just moved into the Dandenong Ranges.

She was lucky that she wasn't seriously hurt, but she had a moment of realisation that, if she had been incapacitated when she'd fallen, she had no-one to call and no help nearby. Her husband was working in the city. She realised that she was all alone at that moment, so she created an online community called Mums of the Hills. That community has grown to over 6,000 mums supporting each other in the Dandenong Ranges, the Yarra Valley and all of the outer east of Victoria.

It's a valuable organisation. They've just moved from the online world to the real world and created their new hub in Belgrave. That's going to give mums a place to go for support and refuge. Belinda has done an amazing job supporting so many people. What she does so well is advocate for them in the challenges they have. I've been fortunate to get to know her since being the candidate and the member for Casey. Senator Hume and I visited her just a few weeks ago to talk about some of the challenges that mums are having in the Dandenong Ranges, the Yarra Valley and all through Casey. The first issue she raised was the childcare desert that exists in our community, particularly in long day care. This is really important because if mums are unable to have their children in care all day they can't leave the Dandenongs to go to work in the city, which is an hour away. It's impacting them, so we need to continue to create more places. If there is more supply, then prices will go down.

I spoke to Belinda today because I wanted her first-hand information on this. She talked about an ABC article that identified this startling figure: there are between 15.43 and 15.87 children competing for every one childcare place in our community. In my remaining time I want to talk about prices. The prices families are paying are not going down. They're going up. One family has gone from paying $162 per day to $175 per day. They are $8 a day worse off after the increase in the subsidy. Another family has had a $13 a day increase, from $129 to $142 a day. Another, a $65 a week increase—now $157 per day, up from $142 per day. In the real world families are paying more for child care, and they know it. They've been let down by this government, which has plenty of political— (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm a little concerned that this MPI has a subtext, and the subtext is that, somehow, we in the Albanese government do not care for families. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. We are here to govern for everyone. The Albanese Labor government—in fact, all Labor governments—do not carve out Australia into favourites. We are here to support the young. We are here to support the old. We are here to support singles. And we are here to support families.

We recognise that families all throughout Australia are doing it tough. The inflationary beast is a global phenomenon, and Australia is not immune to these pressures. The response so far has been one where inflation has been bludgeoned by interest rate hikes led by the independent Reserve Bank, but it requires something more, and that's where we have stepped in, with surgical precision. We have provided targeted cost-of-living relief while laying the foundations of our future prosperity. Those foundations include skills, the energy transformation and investment in onshore manufacturing—the future that our children, the children of the families of today, will inherit. That future is there for them to seize.

In terms of the short-term cost-of-living relief—it has already been discussed, but for young families we delivered $4.7 billion in cheaper child care in the October budget. That is flowing now to 1.2 million families around Australia, including 4,400 families in Higgins. We know that the highest costs for families are mortgage repayments, the car and child care, which is actually third in those early years.

We recognised that at the outset, and it was one of the key reasons that young families voted us into government.

The second intervention was, of course, paid parental leave, which is designed to break those gendered norms that box in men as breadwinners and women as homemakers and actually last for decades. They start in that early period, when baby comes home, but they become entrenched and they last for decades. We want to smash those norms.

In terms of the middle years, a more universal area is health care. As a doctor, I was so heartened to see in the last budget a tripling of the bulk-billing incentive—a $3.5 billion investment. What does that mean? It means that more Australians can benefit from universal health care—Medicare. The reason I sit on this side and not on that side is because I believe in Medicare. It has been my life and my career.

In addition to that, in a few months from now, we will be delivering 60-day dispensing of medications to Australians. Eleven million Australians have chronic disease in this country. It's about 50 per cent of the population. Cheaper medicines through 60-day prescribing will benefit around six million Australians. That's going to halve the cost of their medicines. That's a significant cost-of-living benefit. It will deliver not only cost relief but also convenience. It will also improve compliance with medications. Why? Because when people run out of their medicines, they stop taking them and they deteriorate. If you have a chronic illness, whether it be diabetes or chronic heart failure, when you deteriorate, what ends up happening? You end up in hospital in the emergency department. You can see how a policy like this will pull one lever that will have economy-wide benefits not just to the individual but to the rest of the country, and it will have a knock-on effect—a virtuous cycle.

In addition to this, we know that families have been struggling with the mental health impacts of this pandemic. Parents are completely exhausted. Children have struggled to recover from the lockdowns that we had, particularly those in Victoria. I recognise that, and I hear it from my constituents, and this is why we committed over half a billion dollars—$586 million—towards improving mental health in Australia.

One of the key initiatives is removing the bottlenecks to psychology training. We need to have more psychologists. We also want to improve mental first aid so that anyone can deliver it.

While they are a party of division, we are a party of doers, and we are here to govern for this whole country.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has now concluded.