Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance


5:43 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I'm glad that this motion gives me the opportunity to share a few observations about last night's federal budget and what it contains for the country as a whole and, in particular, for my state of Queensland. I have to say my overwhelming reaction to last night's budget was one of disappointment. I really did think that, at a time when Australia is facing its worst recession since the Great Depression, there would be some more vision from this federal government about the kind of country that we want to have as we emerge from this crisis and the budgetary support that would be provided to make sure that we get there. Instead, what we saw last night from the government was a budget that was about spinning wheels. Sure, there are some significant announcements in the budget—there are some significant funding injections—but it doesn't really take us anywhere.

The budget is about getting things happening, rather than actually setting us up for the sort of future that we need as a country, so I think that that is a lost opportunity. When we face these kinds of conditions, it really should force us to think about the kind of country that we want to have in the future and the types of problems that we saw in our country heading into this crisis. This budget would have been an opportunity to actually fix some of those problems and make Australia stronger, more prosperous and more inclusive than it was prior to the crisis.

When we look at the key initiatives of this budget, some of them are things that Labor have been calling on this government to do for a very long time. We have been calling on this government to bring forward the stage 2 tax cuts for many, many months. We have been calling on the government to increase its investment in infrastructure for many, many months. Now that the government are finally doing these things, they want to sit back and wait for all this glory and acclamation for having done things that Labor have been calling on them to do for months. You can't help but wonder where the country would be now if the government had acted on Labor's suggestions months ago, when we first started making them. Where would the country be now if the government had brought forward those stage 2 tax cuts months ago, as we had called on the government to do? How many jobs would have been created in the infrastructure projects that the government is finally agreeing to now if it had done that months ago, as Labor had called on the government to do? I think that, all in all, the budget is a pretty underwhelming document in terms of what it will do in the short term and the longer term for the country.

Today we saw the awkwardness that emanated from every government senator on the government benches when they were reminded that they will be the government remembered for presiding over $1 trillion worth of debt in our country. I've only been here a short time, but I know how many speeches I've heard from government senators telling us that the way to prosperity and success is to have a government that's about low taxes and low debt. I remember the insults that have been thrown at Labor for so long about the debt and deficit disaster that we apparently ushered in after the GFC—at a fraction of the debt that this government is now racking up.

But what's worse than that is the very little we will have to show for the debt that is being racked up by this government. They are racking up $1 trillion in debt. As he leaves this parliament, Senator Cormann will always be remembered as the $1 trillion man—probably something he didn't aspire to, but that will be his record.

Senator Dean Smith interjecting—

I'll come to that, Senator Smith. Senator Cormann will be remembered as the $1 trillion man, much as he might not want that description applied to him—

An honourable senator: If he's remembered at all!

If he's remembered at all! For all of that spending, it's hard to see what we're going to get from it. It's not as if we're going to get some massive new investment in child care or finally get a fix for the aged-care crisis that this government has presided over. There is no more social housing being provided to address the housing crisis this government has presided over and no jobs coming for tradies building that social housing. For all that debt that's being racked up by the government, we're still going to see an increase in unemployment and we're still going to see wages in this country not rise for four years. In fact, the budget papers say the government is forecasting that there's going to be a real wage cut over the next 12 months; people's wages are going to go backwards over the next 12 months, once you take inflation into account.

I would have thought if the government was going to rack up $1 trillion in debt it might at least be able to get unemployment down and ensure Australians are going to get a wage rise and, therefore, have more money to put through local businesses and create jobs. I would have thought we might see a fix for the childcare system, particularly to encourage women back into work. I would have thought we might see a fix to the aged-care crisis. But what we now know is that, after this debt is being racked up, all of those problems will still remain for a future government to deal with. That is a really lost opportunity for this government and for the country as a whole.

The other really disappointing aspect of the budget last night is that the government didn't take up Labor's suggestion to reverse the cuts the government has imposed on JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Again, in my state of Queensland alone, those cuts which have taken effect over the last few days are impacting on hundreds of thousands of people. I will give you a few examples. In Brisbane, it's estimated that there are about 273,000 people who have had JobKeeper or JobSeeker cut over the last few days. On the Gold Coast, it is about 165,000 people.

Senator Hume interjecting—

I'm happy to take that absurd interjection from Senator Hume, which we've been hearing all week. They are so terrified of the reality that they have cut the JobSeeker payment and JobKeeper payment that they want to turn it into some extension. Let me give you a tip. When someone's receiving $1,500 a fortnight on JobKeeper, and it's reduced by hundreds of dollars a fortnight, it's not an increase, it's a cut. 'Cut' might not be a word that you like; it might not be a word that you want to use. But reducing a payment by hundreds of dollars a fortnight is not an increase; it can only be labelled as a cut—a cut imposed as part of the Morrison recession. And this is going to make things worse.

At a time when the economy is so precarious, cutting the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to hundreds of thousands of people in Brisbane, Logan, the Scenic Rim, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Central Queensland, the Fraser Coast, North Queensland and outback Queensland is taking millions of dollars out of those local economies every single week. That's money that people had in their pockets and were able to spend in local businesses; it is money they will no longer have. That is going to have a devastating impact on those local economies, and we saw nothing last night to address that and change that.

The other thing we didn't see in the budget last night was the funding that the Queensland opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, claims to have to upgrade the Bruce Highway in Queensland. Ms Frecklington has spent the last week driving from Brisbane to Cairns telling people all along the way that, if she's elected as the Premier of Queensland, she's going to make the Bruce Highway a four-lane road from Brisbane to Cairns. That would cost $33 billion. She's saying she'll put in 20 per cent, which means she needs about $26 billion from the federal government to meet her commitment to make the Bruce Highway four lanes. And what did we see last night? We saw $200 million committed by the federal government to the Bruce Highway. So she's about $26.2 billion short. She will only make it up by cutting, just like the federal government is cutting right now. (Time expired)


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