Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable the Deputy Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
Eighteen months of a distracted and chaotic Government and a Prime Minister missing in action.
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—
It gives me great pleasure to speak on today's matter of public importance. Every week—in fact, every question time—brings more chaos and dysfunction from this distracted and chaotic government. Today was a really good example. We had the hapless immigration minister acknowledging that he has lost hardened criminals on the streets after previously inviting them to be case-managed by his department; the hopeless home affairs minister, sent up day after day to try and back him in; and the obfuscating Prime Minister, who just doesn't have the courage to give a straight answer to the question, 'Why did you not defend our Australian sailors from an attack by the Chinese navy by demonstrating that you back them in when you had a chance with the Chinese President?' They are obfuscating every single day. It's minister after minister. I can't even begin on the environment and water minister, or I don't know what will happen for the rest of this MPI. But she has single-handedly traded off the lives and livelihoods of the farmers and food and fibre producers in the Murray-Darling Basin without ever having the courage to look them in the eye and tell them what she really has in store for them.
I want to quote from the front page of the Australian the day after the Prime Minister launched his election campaign just over 18 months ago. It's important that we go back there. The headline makes it clear what his core promises about his potential government were all about. The headline was 'Life will be "cheaper" under me'.
This was an important speech. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for reminding me. This was an important speech. It was a speech where the now Prime Minister was outlining what he would do and what Australians could expect under his leadership, and the contents of what he said left Australians at that time with no room for doubt. He concluded his speech with this crescendo of promises. He said:
Labor has real, lasting plans for cheaper electricity … cheaper mortgages …
We can do better than three more years of the Government that's brought us skyrocketing costs of living …
We have the worst inflation rate in two decades. Families are struggling, worried about the future.
… … …
… as your Prime Minister – I won't run from responsibility.
I won't treat every crisis as a chance to blame someone else.
I will show up, I will step up …
Well, poll after poll demonstrates that Australians feel like they're worse off today than when the Labor Party was elected 18 months ago. As they pass the halfway mark of this government, they can see what life is like under this Prime Minister. They're not liking what they're seeing. They're seeing a distracted and chaotic government, and a prime minister who goes missing in action when it matters most. We know these overseas trips are important; of course we do. But we also know the look of glee on the Prime Minister's face as he steps once more onto the red carpet and once more into his dedicated VIP aircraft and leaves the country.
The deputy indeed. We know what that tells us about his priorities. We know what that tells us about his priorities for Australians who are struggling with the cost of living, because the reality is that Labor's chaotic handling of the economy is imposing harsh new costs on households and families.
Today, under Labor, according to Foodbank Australia's Foodbank hunger report 2023that's the name of the report, the 'hunger report'—3.7 million Australian households are going hungry or on the edge of falling into hunger; and, just weeks away from Christmas, 77 per cent of Australian households experiencing food insecurity are doing so for the very first time. Sixty per cent are going hungry, and they are employed. You only have to visit these food charities to see the pain on their faces.
That's right, Member for Barker. We have a growing class of working poor. Breadlines are appearing in our cities once again. In the 2020s, like the 1920s, Australia is looking less like the lucky country and more like the hungry country—such a far cry from what the Prime Minister promised: 'No-one left behind, always looking after the disadvantaged and vulnerable; that's what my government will do.' Well, millions and millions of Australians are being left behind. As I said, you visit these food charities, as we all do, and you're told how they see an immediate spike in presentations once mortgages go up. And, unfortunately, mortgages may be going up further, with the Reserve Bank governor confirming that Australia has world-leading inflation, driven not by overseas factors but by domestic factors.
It isn't just mortgages that are biting. Labor is hammering Australians on every front. Food is up eight per cent; housing, up 10 per cent; insurance, up 17 per cent; electricity, up 18 per cent; and gas, up 28 per cent. From rents to retail, inflation is due to Labor's reckless decision to bring in hundreds of thousands of migrants without a plan to house them. The services Australians need cost more today because of rises in electricity and rents. They're all things that Labor has done by driving up inflation.
I didn't mention the preposterous energy minister—that's the only description I have for him in every single question time—and the ridiculous statements he makes, because what he doesn't understand is what we see in the manufacturing businesses of Australia: hurt, pain, doors closing, employees being let go and no prospect of actually making things in Australia, as the Labor government wants us to do. It's really no surprise that prices are surging. From the cost of building your first home to your morning coffee, food in the supermarket and even your Uber trip, Labor are fixated on driving up prices exactly when we need them to do the opposite.
We can't let this MPI go past without talking about national security, because we shouldn't forget it took President Biden and ASIO director Mike Burgess to remind Australians of the threats posed by China—by the Chinese Communist Party—when the Prime Minister failed to do so. He used to talk tough on Chinese ownership of the port of Darwin, but he opted for the status quo. He reassured us his rapprochement with China was just about business, but his officials told the diaspora community that his visit to Beijing was purely political. And disgracefully, after his government stage-managed the release of information to avoid awkward questions about this attack on our Navy divers, he still refuses to confirm whether or not he stood up for our people when he met President Xi Jinping. It cannot be the case that we have a prime minister who speaks up for Aussie pandas when he's in China—happy to be photographed with the pandas—but refuses to speak up for our Navy divers. The government claims to be kicking goals in foreign policy, but all I can see is chaos.
The chaos on our borders has really been writ large in the parliament over the last fortnight because Labor have released over 100 hardened criminals into the community and now we've learnt that they can't account for them. The minister for immigration has promised me a list.
The minister for immigration promised me a list of how many rapists, murderers and paedophiles he has released.
An opposition member: Have you got it yet?
No, I haven't got it, even though he said he would do that on 14 November. He told me he would provide me with a list. Under Labor, we now have new asylum seekers arriving by boat being put into Nauru, with the first child going into detention since Labor was last in government. Weak on borders, weak on defence, weak on foreign policy—Labor are proving an Australian political truism: when given enough rope, they are economic and national security failures. It is chaos.
If you're bewildered about how we got here, remember what the Prime Minister's sole focus was for his first 500 days in office. His first and total focus was the Voice. He doesn't mention it now. He took the Voice referendum from a 61-39 majority to the bottom of the cliff, 61-39 against. He killed constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians for at least a generation.
He is tricky and slippery with the truth. This may seem like a small thing but, my goodness, it's indicative. Just last week, he tried to claim that he hadn't had any time off for a year, but he actually announced to the media in April that he was going on a week's leave. He told an audience, 'I haven't had any time off.' He said, 'I don't talk about private meetings with world leaders,' but then he briefed out what he discussed with President Biden in October. 'I don't talk about the National Security Committee.' He has said that many times. Well, time after time he likes to talk about the National Security Committee. He likes to mislead. Unfortunately, he peddles mistruths when it suits him. The consequences are clear for all of us to see.
Today the excellent, outstanding shadow minister for communications brought a bill into this place about an online safety amendment to protect Australian children from online harm, and this government voted against it. Shame on them. Do we really think that it's okay to ignore the eSafety Commissioner? She is a really good person who spent two years researching the issue of online harm to children and came up with what I think is quite a moderate proposal, which is to do a trial about age verification, to try to restrict access by younger children to violent pornography online. Why would you not support that? I encourage everyone to listen to the words of the shadow minister for communications and others who spoke in that debate, including the crossbench. There was a very powerful intervention from the member for Mayo, and others on the crossbench were saying, 'What on earth is wrong with the government that it wouldn't support this?' That's it, you see, Deputy Speaker. Every single day— (Time expired)
Honourable members interjecting—
He talked about that great Labor leader Bill Hayden and spoke about how Bill Hayden said that, in government, actions speak louder than words. So I really want to thank those opposite for bringing this matter of public importance to parliament today, because it gives us all on this side the opportunity to talk about the actions that our government has taken. As we wind up the year and as we come to the halfway point of our first term in government, we can look at our track record and talk about the actions that our government has taken that have made a real difference to Australians' lives during some really difficult times and which are helping us to navigate the country through some tough economic times, with some tough global headwinds.
When we took office, we hit the ground running and went straight to work to implement the policies that we took to the election, with an understanding that those policies would make a tangible difference to the lives of Australians. We know that a lot of people are doing it tough. I've been here since 2016 and have stood up time and time again and talked about the people in my electorate—people who live in Balga, Mirrabooka, Girrawheen, Marangaroo, Koondoola, Lockridge, Kiara—who have been doing it tough. I've listened to my colleagues on this side of the House. In the time that I've been in here, we have not stopped standing up on behalf of the people in our electorates who we know have been doing it tough.
That's why we've had sensible and targeted measures to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our communities right across Australia are getting the support that they need.
I want to talk about the portfolio that I represent in early childhood education and care. As just one example of a commitment that we took to the election and something that we've delivered on that actually has made a tangible difference, putting real money back into the pockets of Australians, when we increased the childcare subsidy the effect was to slash the cost of early childhood education and care for around 1.2 million families right across the nation. This was, as I mentioned, a commitment that we took to the election.
The latest ABS consumer price index report showed that that policy, our cheaper childcare legislation, improved the costs of early learning by around 13.2 per cent. That's on average. In fact, the ABS estimates that without the changes to the childcare subsidy—changes that we took to the election and that we delivered on in our first year in government—childcare costs for families would have increased by 6.7 per cent. Now, all major cities across Australia have seen childcare costs for families drop by at least 10 per cent, with some having seen a reduction of more than 17 per cent. So there have been reductions of between 10 and 17 per cent—on average, 13.2 per cent. Compare that to if we had done nothing, as those opposite wanted us to. Remember that they said that an increase to the childcare subsidy was unnecessary. If we had done what they wanted us to do, which was nothing, the out-of-pocket costs of early childhood education and care for families across Australia would have increased by 6.7 per cent.
It's not just the ABS data that shows how those opposite completely failed when it comes to the cost of living and the impact of the cost of early childhood education on that. The latest ACCC report, an interim report that we commissioned, showed that under the former government early childhood education and care costs went up by twice as much as the OECD average. If you think that that is not a cost-of-living issue, think again. Those of us in the House here, as well as people up in the gallery and people watching from home who have sat around the family table and talked about their budget, know that the first thing you factor in is the cost of early childhood education and care. That's the first thing you factor in. Then you start to look at what else you can fit around that when you're deciding who's going to work, how many hours they're going to work and what you're going to be able to afford.
Make no mistake, these are changes that are possible only when Australia has a Labor government. A Labor government is a government where actions speak louder than words, a government that is dedicated to more than just media announcements and a government that is dedicated to actually delivering on the things that we take to elections and the promises that we make to Australians to look after their best interests. The great legacy of Labor governments past includes the introduction of Medicare, the protection of Medicare and the introduction of the single mothers pension, which, as the Prime Minister mentioned earlier today, was a legacy of Bill Hayden. It's something that I've benefited from as a single mum trying to raise two children on her own. These are reforms that are always brought in by Labor governments and that always help the most vulnerable in our country, and this government builds on those reforms.
Since we took office, we have seen policies to reduce the pressure of the cost of living on families, including: providing electricity bill relief; making medicines cheaper; making it easier and cheaper to see a doctor; building more social and affordable homes; increasing rent assistance; introducing the Help to Buy Scheme, which will support 40,000 Australians into homeownership; providing fee-free TAFE; and seeing real wages rising at the fastest rate in a decade, including the minimum wage and the wages of aged-care workers.
And when we increased the minimum wage, when we changed the industrial relations legislation to see the poorest-paid workers in Australia get a lift in their wages, did the sky fall down, as those opposite said it would? Did the weekend end? I don't know about you all, but I think the weekend is still here. We've done all this in the face of and despite the naysayers opposite, who argued that every step we took to reduce cost-of-living pressures on families was going to ruin the nation somehow or other.
But the results are real and tangible: real wages up, gender pay gap down, women's workforce participation up, unemployment down, cost of early childhood education and care down, cost of seeing a doctor down, business investment up, minimum wage up—all these in our first 18 months, all these because we delivered on the key commitments that we took to an election and that Australians voted for, all this despite an opposition that says no to everything and despite the fact that we inherited a mess and had a lot to fix up.
We have not wavered from our primary focus on cost of living, on wages, on jobs, on building a stronger economy for all Australians, and we will not waver from that primary focus. We've already achieved a lot in our first 18 months, but we acknowledge that there is a lot more to do. And the Albanese government isn't wasting a day in moving on cost of living and those things we see as important to our economy and to the everyday Australians we represent. Our government is ambitious. Our government is laying the foundations for a stronger Australia, not just now but into the future.
This Labor government is in chaos. It's like a summer cyclone after 18 months of wind. It's culminated into a cost-of-living crisis, and the economy is in the low of the storm. Labor's waters are breaching national security and Australians who rely on their government to keep them safe in their communities are drowning. This government has failed on the economy. The cost of living is going through the roof and families cannot afford to hold it together. Inflation under Labor has been higher for longer, causing interest rates to be higher, inflicting pain on Australian families. This government has spent $188 billion keeping inflation higher for longer. And especially at Christmas, when families want to celebrate together and want to spend extra money on groceries, want to spend extra money on celebrating togetherness, alas, under this Albanese Labor government 50 per cent of Australians say they are worse off this year and their pay packets don't go as far as they did last year.
Electricity costs under this government are up by 18 per cent. Where's the $275 the Prime Minister promised? He promised Australians $275 off their electricity bill, but under this government electricity is up by 18 per cent. And gas: if you want to cook on your gas cooker—I've got one at home—prices are up by 28 per cent. That's expensive. And unaffordable rents are due to high interest rates, because landlords pay those interest rates—due to this government keeping inflation higher for longer.
They are distracted.
They have been distracted on what matters most to Australians, which is the economy. They have been distracted by the Prime Minister's $450 million referendum that failed. The Prime Minister paid $450 million for Australians to categorically tell him they will not be divided on race. What a waste of money.
The government has spent $4.7 billion on increasing the childcare subsidy without one new place in regional and remote Australia. They may have helped some families, but there are families who still cannot access early childhood education and care. Families are languishing on waiting lists everywhere, all over the country. Those families who can't work can't pay the bills. This is all under the Albanese Labor government, 18 months in.
The Prime Minister's been distracted by his flight times, and he has dropped his boarding pass a few times now. He has dropped his boarding pass on national security. Ten boats have attempted to come to our shores. It is a disgrace. His immigration minister and his home affairs minister are patting each other on the back during question time on what a great job they've done, but it's now costing taxpayers $255 million to boost community safety for their failure. We have over 100 hardened criminals now out in our community. One of them we don't know where they are. We don't know where that criminal is thanks to this government. Thanks to this government, Australians have to lock their doors this Christmas. Australians, you have to watch your children very closely this Christmas thanks to this government letting paedophiles out onto the street. You have to tighten your belts and you have to batten down the hatches for another year under the cyclone that is this Labor government. They are failing Australians where they should not be—failing on the economy, failing on national security and failing on community safety, which is the primary role of governments. It's to look after Australian citizens. Shame on you!
When I saw in this motion the phrases 'chaotic government' and 'Prime Minister missing in action' it occurred to me: 'Maybe the opposition has finally undertaken some introspection after the last election. Maybe they're going to come in here and we're going to hear a big mea culpa for the decade of mess that we inherited.' But, unfortunately, after the last 15 minutes of rhetoric, I see that is not to be the case.
Let's look at that phrase 'chaotic government'. How about three leaders in quick succession, with each change ever more acrimonious? How about countless ministers, a turnstile of ministers, in key portfolios? How about productivity across the economy at 60-year lows? Not since the Great Depression had we had an economy perform so badly. How about no skills agreement for their whole term? How about no skills investment? How about taking funds out of our TAFE system? How about denialism on climate change which was embarrassing on the international stage and meant that we couldn't get into a range of international discussions? We couldn't even get a seat at the table. But, even more than that, it means we're starting the task of climate change abatement 10 years after we should have, which is going to make it all the harder. We didn't know exactly when the next massive disruption to our economy would come. We didn't know exactly when the next pandemic would occur. But we knew there would be one at some point. What happened is that, when COVID came, our economy was all the more ill prepared for it. We had low productivity growth, we had low investment in supply chains and we had low investment in skills. It was made all the harder because of a decade of poor government.
When they want to talk about chaotic government, those opposite should have a good, hard look in the mirror. When the Australian people, at the last election, made a judgement on what a chaotic government is, they made a very clear judgement. Let's look at a couple of the key issues at the last election and what constitutes chaotic government. What about good decision-making? What about dealing with corruption in government? What about having institutions that strengthen our democracy and strengthen the public's faith in democracy?
Those opposite had years to put in place a national anticorruption commission. They promised time and time again it was coming: 'It's coming. It's going to come by this date. It's going to come by that date.' Then, towards the end of their hopeless 10 years in government, they had a bill that was outside of government and started to blame us, the opposition; they wouldn't introduce the bill because they wanted a guarantee from us that we would pass their poorly designed institution. It was so chaotic and poor that we had no action on that core issue for so long, and it became a major issue at the election and a major reason why that previous government was thrown out. We have instituted a strong, robust national anticorruption commission in our first 18 months in government, and it represents action on so many fronts.
What about Respect@Work? Those opposite received the recommendations from that report but didn't implement key recommendations. It took the change of government for key recommendations to be implemented. What about climate change? I talked about a decade of denial on climate change, a decade of chaos, with 27 policies on climate change. In our first 18 months we've legislated net zero, we've legislated a 43 per cent reduction by 2030, we've put in place a safeguard mechanism—step after step, taking us down the path we need to get to. It's starting from a point we didn't need to start from but we're taking all the steps we need to.
What about the economy and cost of living? Those opposite had this shocking performance when it came to productivity, which put us in a very poor position when COVID hit. Under their watch, we had the highest single quarter of inflation growth. We've seen, under our term in government, in 18 months, inflation come down materially—it's got further to come down but it has come down materially—and we've seen unemployment resilient and seen the labour market resilient. The unemployment rate remains with a '3' in front of it. We've seen the participation rate at record levels. We're seeing inflation coming down but we are managing to walk that narrow path where we are seeing the labour market remain resilient. That's helping people to continue to stay in the labour market, which is helping them to pay their mortgages and helping them to navigate these difficult times.
When it comes to cost-of-living pressures on the most vulnerable households, there are a lot of households doing it tough. Our government is doing targeted cost-of-living assistance, the 10-point plan—cheaper medicines, rent assistance, child care; the list goes on—and we're doing it in a way where we're not making the Reserve Bank's job harder. We are investing in productivity in the long run—skills, climate change and many other areas. Chaos was what he had until the last election. It's the opposite that we have now.
I'm sorry the Prime Minister is not here for the matter of public importance because, as you know, Deputy Speaker Claydon, I'm here to help. I don't want to be a dobber—no-one likes being a dobber—but he needs to know what's been going on as he travels the world. I've been watching those opposite very closely in the last two question times, and, I've got to say, it has been like watching a funeral procession over the last couple of days. The PM was at the dispatch box delivering his big zingers, and there's been a deathly silence amongst those opposite. They've got their heads down. They're looking at their mobile phones, all checking the latest Newspoll results, trying to figure out if they can win with a primary vote that is lower than it was at the last election: 'Can I still win? Is my great career going to end now?' I've seen this tragedy unfold before. Very soon they will start looking around the caucus room: 'Who can boost my chances? Who can invest in my greatness? Who can make me what I should be?' Let me assure you all: someone is ready for that tap on the shoulder. The ever-ambitious member for Rankin is already out there choosing the curtain colours at the Lodge. He's ready to tear down those Rabbitohs posters and insert his own Brisbane Broncos posters at the Lodge. The lad from Logan City is in a hurry.
I've been reading a bit lately, and I was taken by that very famous quote by Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. At one point Caesar ponders:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Then I read another piece—not quite Shakespeare but comedy and tragedy in equal measure. It was the 5,699-word puff piece on the Treasurer written by Deborah Snow. I'm not sure 'Deborah Snow' is not a pseudonym for Jim Chalmers, actually. It was glorious coverage of his fabulous fitness regime, his intellectualism and his good humour. It was 5,699 words of gushing praise. I was running around the lake this morning and I half expected to see the Treasurer walking across the lake, because it was such a stunning piece.
But I was struck by this quote from the Treasurer in this gushing piece of fluff:
You know, every career has an arc and I like reading about how people think about the end of the arc.
Prime Minister, a word to the wise: he thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.
While the Labor Party have started plotting and scheming behind the scenes, they've already forgotten the people they were elected to represent in the first place. This Prime Minister said he would govern for all Australians. Tell that to the timber workers in my electorate of Gippsland and tell that to the irrigation communities within the Murray-Darling Basin, because this government and this Prime Minister are about to waste $22 billion of taxpayers' money buying back water from productive agricultural use. It is a plan that will force up the price of groceries for Australian families in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. What genius could ever support an idea that would involve forcing up grocery prices and making it harder to produce food in the nation's food bowl in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis? I can understand, though, why those opposite don't understand the Murray-Darling Basin, because none of them live in the Murray Darling Basin.
Not one of them lives there. The member for Nicholls points out they couldn't care. They couldn't care because they don't understand. They don't even understand that the food bowl of our nation is so critical to grow the food for our communities and for the rest of the world. So more than $20 billion of taxpayers' money is to be wasted to increase the cost of living.
You'll get your chance soon, but I tell you now: it's a long way from Western Australia to the Murray-Darling Basin, genius.
Let me just talk about one other thing which reflects on this Prime Minister and his distraction from the issues which impact regional people. The issues that regional people are talking about are their jobs, the cost of living, good roads, good schools and health services. They're talking about things that matter in their lives while the Prime Minister is out there wasting more than $400 million on his vanity project, dividing the nation with his failed Voice proposal. It just demonstrates again the poor judgement and just how out of touch the Prime Minister is, and it's a reflection on the distraction and disengagement he has. He spends most of his time overseas, and I just say to the Prime Minister: get back in the country and do your day job, because I tell you now, Prime Minister, that, if you don't start understanding the issues that are impacting regional people and start keeping your promise to govern for all Australians, you need to realise that the Treasurer is very happy to do that job for you.
This MPI is an early Christmas gift, and I thank the member for Farrer. We can all remember what a chaotic government looks like, because it wasn't that long ago that we saw the coalition chaos, with the member for Cook pretending to run a government, not holding a hose, having six extra ministries—which no-one knew; the member for Farrer didn't know and the member for Dickson didn't know—upsetting the French, upsetting the Chinese, upsetting New Zealand and the Pacific, being slow to understand or act on the pandemic, and trying and not quite succeeding in getting his pastor mate in to visit President Trump. There were negative texts leaking from premiers and coalition partners. Australia was being ignored at international climate conferences. Yes, we know what chaos looks like.
This government, however, is just getting on with business. Last week, for example, I was proud to represent the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence at HMAS Stirling in Perth, where the government handed over a patrol boat to the Samoan government to enhance security in the Pacific. The defence minister was representing the Australian government in Saudi Arabia. Here the Prime Minister and the foreign minister are working hard to restore our place in the world while delivering for Australians here at home. The assistant ministers were already committed to other events in other states too, because they were busy delivering for all Australians. Just on Thursday, Minister Conroy announced that Henderson would become the home of continuous naval shipbuilding in Western Australia, which the WA state Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon. Paul Papalia, described quite rightly as an 'absolutely priceless' decision. That's what this government does: it makes good decisions and gets on with business.
A few days before that, I attended the BP refinery site in Kwinana in the electorate of Brand, together with Ministers Bowen and Madeleine King, for the announcement of the H2Kwinana hydrogen energy hub. The Albanese government is investing over half a billion dollars in regional hydrogen hubs, with the other locations being the Pilbara, Gladstone, Townsville, the Hunter, Bell Bay and Port Bonython. It's important, as it has been predicted that our hydrogen industry will generate anything up to $50 billion in additional GDP by 2050.
We have had interest in this from all over the world, and the government would be negligent not to take action. This government takes action. We recently delivered the gas code and expanded the Capacity Investment Scheme because governments have to plan for the future and the future is calling.
Earlier this month, I attended the CSIRO labs in Perth. We can be very proud of our CSIRO, which has originated many essential innovations such as polymer banknotes, long-life contact lenses and wi-fi. It's important that we value the CSIRO and Australian ingenuity and back it in here at home. I will only briefly remind members that the climate science division of CSIRO was gutted by the coalition in 2016—a great example of how not to treat our scientists and how not to govern our country. The coalition is chaos.
Further, in science and technology we see that the lack of action over the last 10 years has now been corrected by this government. Where were the AI strategy, the quantum strategy and the robotics strategy under the too many long years under Liberal-National coalition as they sleepwalked into the future? Under this government it is all happening. The Albanese government has been characterised by stability and delivery. We have delivered the Defence strategic review 2023. Where was your Defence strategic review? We've created Australia's first national anticorruption commission. Where was your legislation? We've re-established ties with our Pacific neighbours. All you could do was insult them. We have delivered two surpluses in two budgets for targeted relief for Australian households. We're closing the gender pay gap, we've increased women's participation in the workforce and this is the first gender-representative governing party in our history. Where's the coalition's? We are taking action on climate change, securing our energy supply and renewing our environmental legislation—things the Liberal and National parties could never do, because they could never agree on the science. It was chaos.
We've got wages moving again, which was not a priority for those opposite. We've invested in Medicare. We've increased bulk-billing and made medicines cheaper. Those opposite did not. We've increased assistance payments, parenting payments and rent assistance at a time when household budgets do need a hand. We've increased enrolments in training with fee-free TAFE. We are changing lives. We've acted to uncover wrongdoings such as the robodebt scandal and the Pricewaterhouse scandal. We're strengthening the Public Service and implementing the recommendations of the Jenkins review to create a safe and respectful workplace. We have repaired relations with our trading partners and finalised trade agreements that have stalled. (Time expired)
Australians have had enough. After 18 months of this chaotic and distracted Prime Minister and the Albanese Labor government, the public want better. He's missing in action, glitzing around on the world stage while there are issues at home that the Australian public want action on right now. He's missing in action on the cost-of-living crisis, which is gripping every single household in my electorate of Lindsay. From Emu Heights and Leonay to Colyton and North St Marys, not one suburb is left untouched by this missing-in-action Prime Minister that just doesn't care about them. Since the election, I can't remember hearing the Prime Minister talk about the $275 reduction in power bills he promised. This government has overseen a price rise for electricity and gas. Food and grocery prices are up. Housing is up and insurance has increased. Real wages for working families have fallen 5 per cent in the last 12 months.
In Lindsay, there is a high proportion of mortgage holders compared to those who own a home or rent, and the rate is higher than the New South Wales and Australian average. Interest rate rises are hitting families and are at their highest since 2011. We have many young families who just can't afford a home. They can't afford to rent. Renters are experiencing the largest increase to costs since 2009.
The Prime Minister is missing in action on fixing these issues. He should come to Penrith. Stop at the shops with me and talk to parents, talk to people who are struggling with their mortgage repayments over Christmas. I'll be there meeting with my community. He's very welcome to join me. These parents are telling me they can't afford their kids' swimming lessons—vital swimming lessons to keep kids safe. They just can't afford to live in our suburbs anymore and they're thinking about moving away.
Furthermore, this Prime Minister is missing in action on supporting growing communities through infrastructure that we desperately need.
My electorate of Lindsay has been decimated by this Labor government when it comes to infrastructure. They have ripped $230 million away from Mulgoa Road, which is a project that has been in the works for years. This is the last piece of the puzzle, and it's gone. It just doesn't matter. It includes restoration of funding for the planning of Werrington arterial stage 2. This is the project that would ease congestion in that part of my community that links to Dunheved Road, a project that I fought really hard for. They're just missing in action when it comes to delivering the commitments that they made.
They actually promised to fast-track the upgrade to Dunheved Road during the election campaign. They came out to my community and said, 'We'll make this project go faster.' Do you think they can do that? No. Penrith council said that fast-tracking could never have occurred. So they actually misled my community during the election, which is even worse than not being there and being missing in action. There is nothing worse than misleading a community.
The Kingswood community has been crying out for an upgraded train station for many years. We promised to deliver that and it was set to happen. Actually, $3 million had been spent by Penrith council on the planning for this project. The Albanese Labor government don't care. It's been axed. They've also axed a really critical part of infrastructure for Western Sydney international airport. St Marys railway station was the major stop and interchange when coming through the city, out to the west and going out to the airport. The upgrade of the station and the car park has been axed. Not only that, they've actually axed a project which is under construction. I went out the other day with the shadow minister for infrastructure and stood on the M7-M12 interchange. Workers were everywhere, but this project is no longer funded.
What's going to happen now? It is not only the infrastructure projects that will suffer; it's the people that are working on these jobs and the small businesses that are supplying coffees, sandwiches and lunches. The whole local economy suffers when the Albanese Labor government just doesn't care. Not only is this government missing in action when it comes to important issues back home and the crisis when it comes to the cost of living; we have a crisis when it comes to infrastructure in Western Sydney. They have been misleading a community during an election, making promises they had no intention of keeping and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars away from infrastructure when we have a major international airport just a couple of years away.
My community deserves much better. They deserve honesty. They deserve a prime minister who cares. We deserve to have those commitments back and have the cost-of-living crisis as the No. 1 priority.
Once again, at the end of the year, we're here with another fairly ludicrous matter of public importance that highlights the poor track record of those opposite in government. Again, it makes us realise how deeply unserious those opposite are. There has been an interesting choice of words, I must say, in today's discussion. I certainly wouldn't want to remind people of the chaos of the previous 10 years, but they invite us to discuss chaos and they invite us to talk about leaders who are missing in action. I don't think Australians have forgiven the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, for taking a holiday in Hawaii while Australia burned. I really don't think Australians have forgiven that.
With every contribution that those opposite make in this place being to say no and to not offer anything of substance, we are once again subjected to an hour of discussion that is just not serious at all and is not in the interests of Australian people. But it's a great opportunity for me to contrast what we as a government are doing, and I really welcome the opportunity every day there's an MPI here in this place to talk about the achievements of the Albanese Labor government. I'm always happy to speak on the record of our government.
Over the last 18 months we've delivered on a lot of key measures. We have delivered cheaper child care and cheaper medicines. We have delivered fee-free TAFE, and we've made it easier and cheaper for people to see a doctor. We've also delivered when it comes to the maximum cost of a prescription for PBS medicine, reducing the cost from $42.50 to $30. What's so significant about this is that it was the largest reduction in the 75-year history of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Australians have saved $200 million on almost 18 million cheaper prescriptions since January this year. That is quite remarkable.
This Prime Minister and our government argued for a Fair Work Commission minimum wage increase in line with inflation, delivering pay rises to those worst off. The Prime Minister was in Box Hill, in my electorate, when he said, 'Absolutely,' to the suggestion that the lowest-paid workers in this country should have a pay rise that keeps up with their cost of living. We've delivered a 15 per cent pay increase to aged-care workers. And we've done all of this at the same time as we've delivered the first budget surplus in 15 years. We've seen wages grow at around the fastest rate in a decade, and over 624,000 jobs have been created since we came to office. That's a record for any new government. We're making investments in the capacity of our economy, laying the foundations for future growth, and our efforts to repair the budget are taking pressure off inflation when it is most acute.
Opposition members interjecting—
We've maintained a primary focus on the cost of living, wages, jobs and building a stronger economy for all Australians, and all those opposite have are the negative interjections we're hearing now, no positive contributions whatsoever, and I do think that is a deep shame. Let's not forget what happened when those opposite were last in charge. We had economic mismanagement, with a trillion dollars in debt and not a cent of vision to show for it. Our economic plan is a deliberate and direct response to the economic circumstances that were left to us. We've turned a $78 billion deficit into a $22 billion surplus. That is a $100 billion turnaround. In contrast, those opposite promised a surplus every year since 2013 and didn't deliver a single one.
We understand household budgets are tight and the impact that cost-of-living pressures and inflation have, which is being felt around kitchen tables across the country. That's why we've been taking action to reduce pressure on the cost of living. All we've heard from those opposite is their saying no to relief packages. I wish this was a parliament where those opposite came together with us in government to deliver in the best interests of all Australians, but instead, as today's MPI is a testament to, all those opposite are interested in are cheap tricks, fear and division.
Last week marked 18 months since the Labor Party was elected on the slogan of 'a better future'. Australians were told that, under the leadership of Anthony Albanese, they could expect a $275 reduction in power bills, cheaper mortgages and that families would be better off. He said that life would be cheaper. But, as we know, since that time Australians have overwhelmingly been going backwards. Instead of saving that $275 a year that they were promised off their power bills, the cost of electricity has increased by 18 per cent, and the cost of gas has increased by a whopping 28 per cent. We've seen 12 interest rate rises, significantly raising mortgage repayments for Australian families and contributing to the highest rent increases since 2009. We saw in the Australian newspaper today that 50 per cent of Australians polled consider themselves worse off under Labor than they were two years ago. Across every age group, the feedback was the same: more people are struggling.
Sadly, the Australian dream of homeownership is slipping away. Millions of Aussies are battling increased mortgage repayments and those higher rents, while at the same time dealing with the higher cost of everyday necessities such as food, electricity and insurance. Yet addressing these concerns has not been the government's priority. The Prime Minister has spent months focused on the Voice to Parliament rather than addressing the rising cost of living. And for what? The proposal was rejected comprehensively in every state and territory, apart from the ACT, and has delivered nothing but division.
But it wasn't just the economy that Labor made grand promises on before the election in May 2022; they also promised to maintain Australia's national security and strong border protection policies. They told the Australian people, 'You can trust us.'
The chaotic release of hundreds of criminal detainees is just the latest example of the Prime Minister's feeble leadership. On the Monday of the last sitting period, after the High Court made its ruling, releasing murderers, child rapists and perpetrators of domestic violence from detention, those opposite assured everyone in Australia that no legislation was needed to keep Australians safe. We then found out that detainees in Perth were simply left alone at a Willetton motel with no supervision or security. They were free to roam and come and go as they pleased. In what world is that taking the safety of Western Australians seriously? The Prime Minister then left the country, and the mess was left to be cleaned up by the hapless responsible ministers. Even with coalition amendments to the legislation the government introduced, there were still gaps that needed to be closed. We should never have got to this point. Labor should have had legislation ready to go instead of making policy on the run. As has been reported, Labor has already lost one of the released detainees.
For months now, we've had the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs coming into this place constantly criticising the Leader of the Opposition for his time in his various ministerial roles. Seriously? They are not in opposition anymore. Have you not noticed you are now in government? You need to get on with the job. This is a serious job you've got. You need to move on from opposition to being in government. This is serious business that you've got. You should stop obsessing about our record and start focusing on good policy to keep Australians safe. That is your job. That's what your paid to do. That's what Australians expect you to do. Of course, this applies to our Prime Minister as well. The Prime Minister needs to stop worrying about getting more evidence from his dirt unit focused on us. What he needs to do is think about the priorities. Australians need him to focus on keeping us safe. Australians want him to reduce the cost of living. We have families where mum and dad are both working and they cannot put food on the table for their families. This must be heartbreaking for these families, so we need a government to take the Australian people's needs seriously. Stop worrying about us; you are now in government. The Australian people said to you in May 2022, 'You're in charge now,' so it's time you took that responsibility seriously.
If the other side want to talk about a Prime Minister missing in action, there is no better example than the member for Cook, who during his tenure led a government which allowed 435,000 Australians who rely on the social safety net to be targeted by their own government under the cruel and unlawful robodebt scheme. What a disgrace. This was a government that was missing in action on our aged-care system, letting it fall into neglect. This was a government that let millions of visa applications backlog, meaning people were just left waiting for a decision to see if they come to or stay in this country, waiting to find out if they could build a family here, waiting to visit their loved ones or waiting to bring much-needed skills to Australia. This was a government which watched Australian wages go backwards and did nothing. Let's not forget that this government was so distracted and chaotic that the member for Cook had to have himself secretly sworn into almost every frontbench portfolio.
In comparison, the Albanese Labor government has not wasted a minute in advancing the lives of Australians. I was ecstatic to welcome Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to the Illawarra, not once but twice since February this year alone, where he spent time talking to members of our community and visiting our amazing University of Wollongong. Under Prime Minister Albanese, this government has spent the past 18 months trying to unite the country while the Liberals have been trying to divide and derail progress. For the past 18 months, I have not wasted a second in fighting and delivering for our community, including through $33 million to support Hysata to develop new facilities to deliver low-cost hydrogen in Port Kembla and $10 million to establish an energy futures skill centre at the University of Wollongong so we have the skilled workforce to build the grid of the future.
We are delivering cheaper child care for around 5,700 families in Cunningham; $2½ million for a renewable energy training facility at Wollongong TAFE to support training in renewable energy technologies; just over $29 million for 936 extra places announced for the University of Wollongong; over $1.3 million to local community organisations for much-needed facility and equipment upgrades, including a new client transport bus for the Cram Foundation which arrived just last week; $66,000 for hardworking volunteer organisations in my community; a million dollars to support the University of Wollongong to find ways to keep Australia's grid secure through the renewable energy transformation; $20 million in Australian Research Council grants for the University of Wollongong—
I can see the member for Casey over there, heckling. You're worried about the redistribution. I note the Liberal Party didn't even get their submission in; that's why you're worried!
We have also delivered $1 million for the Illawarra Legal Centre. We've invested $500,000 in community batteries in Warrawong, making renewable energy available to some of the most vulnerable in our community. We've also opened a Medicare urgent care clinic in Corrimal to help ease the pressure on our local hospital emergency departments. We've had funding upgrades for local schools, including Bellambi Public School, Nareena Hills Public School, Wollongong West Public School, Farmborough Road Public School, Waniora Public School, Woonona East Public School, Coledale Public School, Tarrawanna Public School, St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School and Edmund Rice College.
Aged care across the country was left in disarray by the former government, and we have been left picking up the pieces to ensure our older Australians are receiving the care they deserve. In aged care in the Illawarra we have backed in a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers; achieved 24-hour nursing across our aged-care facilities 98 per cent of the time; funded 180,000 fee-free TAFE places for sectors in need, including in aged care across the country; partnered with the New South Wales government to deliver an additional 35 transitional aged-care beds in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven; and opened a Medicare urgent care clinic to also help with aged care.