Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021 seek to appropriate additional funding for the 2020-21 financial year largely relating to the measures delivered in last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, otherwise known as MYEFO: $2.5 billion is allocated from bill No. 3 and a further $141.3 million is sought from bill No. 4.
Labor won't stand in the way of these appropriations, as is our practice with appropriations. The reality is that the spending contained in these bills has been dwarfed over the past few months. We've borne witness to announcement after announcement, media drop after media drop, containing billions upon billions of dollars announced in new spending. We've seen nearly $55 billion in new spending flagged since MYEFO and over $30 billion in the last week alone. But, in the avalanche of spending that we've seen, we have to look past the glossy headlines. That's because, in tonight's budget, we'll again see a deficit of delivery, a deficit of credibility and a deficit of vision—yet another political con job from the master of marketing, the Prime Minister, long on announcements and short on delivery—from a visionless government that waits until there is an absolute crisis before it acts or an election that is not too far off into the distance, and then it's all about acting in its own political self-interest for self-preservation.
The essential truth of this budget tonight is that it's designed to get the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, through an election. We don't yet know when that will be or whether there will be another budget between now and then, but this is certainly a political budget designed to serve Scott Morrison and the government's interests, not deliver for the Australian people. The fact is that this government has now been in office for eight long years. At the next election, they will be asking for 12 years—that's longer than the Howard government. After eight long years of the Liberals and Nationals, what do we have? Four million Australians are in insecure, casual or gig work. Two million Australians are unable to find work at all or unable to find the hours that they need to survive. There are 140,000 fewer apprenticeships. There are 90,000 fewer manufacturing jobs. Out-of-pocket health costs have gone up by more than a third, childcare costs have gone up by more than a third, and you now have to work even longer just to save enough to buy your own home.
It's only now, right before an election, when all the pollsters are telling them that women voters don't trust them, that this government starts caring about women. It's only now, after eight long years, that this government is finally making promises about funding for child care. It's only now, because they think there are votes in it, that they're announcing funding for roads. I might add that, in my home state and Senator McGrath's home state, this government is actually spending less per capita on infrastructure than any other state in this country. The state that returned the Morrison government is being given a slap in the face, with half the new funding for infrastructure that is being provided to New South Wales, to Victoria and even to South Australia, a much smaller state than Queensland. I would really hope that Senator McGrath could do better than that.
After almost a decade, can you think of anything proactive this government has done to make your life better? Beyond the COVID response that has been driven by the states, the Australian Public Service and the experts in departments across government, what are the policies of this government? Where are their big changes for the future? What have they actually delivered rather than just announced? Now they want you to give them three more years to do more of it. They've had eight long years in power with nothing to show for it—no legacy, no reform—eight wasted years. Many of the issues they now claim to be addressing tonight are, in fact, problems of their own making. It's this government's cuts, this government's policies, this government's neglect and this government's mismanagement that have made child care, aged care, the economy and, particularly, the stagnant wages worse, not better, on its watch. Astonishingly, Mr Morrison wants the Australian people to believe all of a sudden that he and his government care about jobs and wages, the very government whose senior ministers said had a deliberate design policy of keeping wages low. All of a sudden, Mr Morrison wants the Australian people to believe that he cares about child care and women's participation in the workforce, that his government cares about aged care despite a damning royal commission titled Neglect that found this government's own cuts had contributed to the neglect we continue to see in aged care. In the eight long years the government have been in office, it's their cuts to aged care, their inability to deal with child care and their deliberate attempts to put downward pressure on wages that have had genuine tangible costs and consequences for the Australian people.
I'll be honest: this government excels at generating headlines and putting up shallow, sugar-hit announcements. I have rarely seen a government better at this in my life: Labor, Liberal, Nationals. So congratulations, Senator Duniam! That's something I will concede to you.
What the government have done and what they do have a problem with is generating secure, well-paid jobs for Australians. Even today the government, in my home state of Queensland—and Senator McGrath will remember—won a range of regional Queensland seats at the last election by promising coalminers they were on their side. The government, whose members like to get around dressing up like coalminers, today of all days is in the High Court of Australia appealing a decision won by the mining union that would have finally done something about the casualisation explosion that we've seen on this government's watch. Today this government, which says it cares about miners, which says it cares about mining communities, is in the High Court of Australia backing labour-hire firms and big mining companies who are trying to continue the casualisation of their workforces. That's how much this government cares about generating secure, well-paid jobs for Australians. While they're at it, some figures that came out recently through a question on notice revealed that they are going to spend $300,000 of taxpayers' money taking this matter to the High Court. This government, which went to the last election saying it would have the back of mining workers, is now turning around and stabbing them in the back by going to the High Court to try to keep them working as casuals, even if they've worked there for seven years, eight years, nine years. That's how much this government cares about secure, well-paid jobs.
As I say, right now there are still two million Australians who can't find work or who can't find enough hours to support their loved ones. Yet, despite this need, we know this budget tonight will be about getting the Morrison government back into their jobs, not about getting Australians back into secure, well-paid jobs that they can feed their families with. Labor wants to see the economy recover strongly and broadly and sustainably. We want there to be more jobs and more opportunities for more Australians. Just because the recession could have been worse doesn't mean the recovery couldn't be better. The fact is the recovery and the economy would be stronger were it not for Scott Morrison's own failures.
I remember just a couple of weeks ago we had a hearing of the COVID committee—probably about the 80th hearing! We had representatives of the tourism industry there who were talking about the desperate skills shortage they now have. They are unable to find people to fill their jobs, and, again, it comes back to decisions that this government made. They admitted—and these are tourism business figures; they're not Labor Party members—that the two key decisions this government has made that now contribute to the inability of tourism businesses to get back on their feet and hire the workers they need are the decision to exclude short-term casuals from receiving JobKeeper, which saw a whole host of people leave the hospitality and tourism industry because they couldn't get JobKeeper and had to go and get a job somewhere else, and, secondly, the decision more recently to stop JobKeeper even though so many tourism and hospitality businesses are still on their knees. It always comes back to decisions of this government that are making problems worse. And now they want us to forget about that and look at all of the headlines which talk about the billions of dollars they're going to throw at every political problem that they have caused.
You can bet your bottom dollar there's going to be something in the budget tonight about skills, a problem that this government has caused through its decisions about JobKeeper and its decisions over the last eight years to cut 140,000 apprenticeships. Again, in my home state of Queensland, if you look at the government's own figures, the most recent we've seen from this very government show that in the period that it's been in office, since 2013, the number of apprentices and trainees in North Queensland has fallen by over 33 per cent, over one-third fewer apprentices and trainees in North Queensland now than there were when this government was elected in 2013. It's the same all around the country. Tonight we're all supposed to sit back and give the government a nice big clap about some more funding for skills, when all they've done for the last eight year is cut money for TAFE, cut apprenticeships and traineeships and make decisions, particularly in tourism and hospitality, that now see employers desperate for skills. That's the kind of government we've got, rather than a government that is actually planning for the future.
The fact is the recovery of the economy would be stronger were it not for the Morrison government's own failures. There are a range of issues which have been festering in the economy and in the budget for eight long years that this government has ignored. But, by all accounts, this a show-bag budget. It'll be a budget that looks pretty flashy, but when you take it home it only lasts for a few days or a few weeks. There will be no substantial economic reform and no plan to deal with stagnant wages, because that's how the government wants it to be. It's a deliberate design feature of the economy under this government to keep wages low. There will be no plan to deal with cost-of-living pressures that families are contending with and no plan to support the two million people who are underemployed and seeking more work. What this budget also shows is that, for all their bluster about budget emergencies and debt-and-deficit disasters, back when the budget deficit and debt were at levels lower than they are today, those on the other side were just hypocrites when it came to the budget.
Their newly embraced fiscal strategy simply vindicates the approach that Labor took through past crises, most recently the GFC, and was condemned universally by the very people coming in here now and spending even more money, racking up even more debt and racking up even bigger deficits. Let's not forget: it was this Prime Minister, including as Treasurer, that was using debt as a political weapon when it was a quarter of what it is today. Well, we've now got a trillion dollars on the national credit card, and they've manifestly failed to meet their own test on public debt. Putting the level of debt and the hypocrisy of Liberals and Nationals to one side, we're careering towards one trillion dollars in debt, the highest level we have ever seen in Australia, and what have we got to show for it? Just consider what they delivered, or rather failed to deliver, in just the last year, despite racking up historically high debt levels.
The Morrison government has failed to efficiently and effectively roll out a vaccine program, probably the most important thing that any government could do to get the economy going again and get people back into work. Firstly, they failed to secure enough vaccines, and now we're paying the price of a slow rollout. Last budget, they were boasting about the fact that a faster vaccine rollout would benefit the economy to the tune of $36 billion. But you can bet your house on the fact that tonight they will be silent on the cost to the economy of their botched vaccine rollout. The Morrison government has also failed to set up a safe national quarantine system and one that is fit for purpose to bring stranded Aussies home. They didn't just break their promise to bring Aussies stranded across the globe in COVID infested countries home by Christmas last year but are now even threatening people with Australian passports with jail if they come home from India. Over a broader time line, the failure is no less stark. We've got significant areas of need in the budget, where this government has made cuts year after year, effectively denying people essential services.
We've also got a budget weighed down with waste, companies that got billions of dollars in JobKeeper and turned a profit, yet this government seemingly doesn't care. Contrast this with how actively and viciously this government pursued victims of its failed robodebt scheme. We've got slush funds that exist in the budget, billions of dollars in slush funds that the government doled out as they head towards an election, with ministers deciding where taxpayers' funds should go based on political convenience, not what the community actually needs. We've got a trillion dollars on the national credit card and a government that's focused on political fixes, not real solutions. What Australians cannot afford tonight is another political patch-and-paint job. For a trillion dollars of debt, Australians cannot afford yet another budget which is again all about spin and marketing but fails to deliver. Time and time again in these budgets, we've seen big promises made and big failures follow. Just think about last year's budget, where the centrepiece, the thing that all the headlines were about last year, was yet another epic failure from this government, the JobMaker Hiring Credit. That was the $4 billion centrepiece of the last budget, in October.
Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 20:30