Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022; Second Reading

9:38 am

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022. This government pretends that it can manage the economy, but all it really does is run up debt, keep wages down and waste money on rorts to keep itself in office. They have no macroreform or microreform agenda to deliver safe and secure jobs or to grow wages. Is there a single issue that faces our country that will be resolved by another three years of this lacklustre D-team government? They failed at disaster response, they failed at wage growth, they failed to address growing skills shortages and they failed to stand up to China.

It's just failure after failure with this government. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells let us in on why that is the case. It's the fraud at the head of a decaying government—Mr Morrison. The announcement of the Chinese base in the Solomon Islands shows the abject failure of the Pacific step-up and shows to all of us that this government's posturings as being tough on defence and strong on China are utterly failing to win the hearts and minds of our neighbours in the Pacific, and that failure matters.

The economic ineptitude of this government is complete and total. We've seen wages stagnate for nine years, we've seen key industries haemorrhage jobs or shut up entirely, like the car manufacturers, and we've seen the cost-of-living burden for ordinary Australians waking up every day continue to skyrocket. They're feeling more and more vulnerable, more and more insecure, not only in their own employment but in the sense of the future for them and their families.

The economic model of this government—if I could be so generous as to call it that—is entirely shambolic. What happened to this government's supposed gas-fired recovery announced with great fanfare in 2020? The fact is, there are now 10 per cent fewer jobs in the industry, and two of Australia's oil refineries have closed during this term of government alone. Just think about the jobs, the jobs that are lost in that industry, despite the fanfare of the government's announcement. This is the government that positioned itself in public announcements as the saviour of the coalmining industry. But their track record tells a different story, and the truth simply does not align with the impressionistic painting of this government that it's there for you.

Make no mistake, last night we saw an urgent response to the cost of living because the government's only woken up to it in the last couple of weeks. For three terms they have allowed the conditions to exist that eroded safety and security for Australian families, increasing insecurity in work. They do not deserve another decade. They simply do not. As with all of the other budgets brought down by Josh Frydenberg, this one is about keeping his government in office by spending our taxpayer dollars like it's their Liberal Party money to buy seats.

This morning I heard Mr Chalmers, the opposition Treasurer, describe the reality of what happened overnight as the equivalent of this government using your dollars and attaching it to their 'how to vote'. It's a vote buyer for a short-term hit; that's all it is. This morning Mr Josh Frydenberg was completely unable and totally unwilling to answer reasonable questions about the $3 billion of cuts that lie on the other side of the upcoming election. And you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be coming out of your pocket. It won't come out of the pocket of multinationals or huge businesses that aren't paying their fair share. It will be ordinary Australians, who've paid with wage stagnation, who will pay once again if we get this government back. This government does not deserve another term.

The rorts under this government have reached unprecedented levels, with hardly a budget going by that doesn't overrule departmental and other expert advice in favour of their political agenda. They're not using our money to benefit the nation—putting money where it's needed on merit—they're out there with their colour coded charts figuring out how they splash money where it's best for their election. That is not a plan for the country. That's a plan for the Liberal Party and the disgraced Mr Morrison, whose own team don't even support him and are willing to put on the record that he is a man who lacks character, a man who will lie to the Australian people.

The infrastructure agenda for this country for the last four years has been dictated by that set of colour coded spreadsheets, by a list of marginal seats, and by the Treasurer's desire to save his own seat, to which he allocated a great amount of money for train station parking, commuter car parks which couldn't be delivered. In the end, he's had to pull the money. That's how chaotic the government's vote-buying exercises are.

The $660 million commuter car park fund was a slush fund for Liberal marginal seat holders, so badly put together, so shambolic that, like the Treasurer's own seat, several had to be cancelled due to it being completely unfeasible. Two were to be built next to stations due to close. Others have been announced and cancelled, and now we're up to the reannouncement in time for the upcoming election campaign. My dad always used to say, 'Well, you can fool the people some of the time, but you can't fool them all the time.' Australians cannot and should not be fooled into another term, a fourth term, of this government in decay.

We know that 77 per cent of those funds, your Australian taxpayer dollars, were funnelled by the coalition into its own seats—77 per cent—despite the fact that they only have a bare majority in the House of Representatives. It's hardly representative of need, other than the need for this government to buy its way back into office. They do not have a plan for the future of the average Australian. They're merely about planning for their own futures, because for those opposite, those in government, it's not about long-term infrastructure creation, it's not about long-term jobs and secure jobs and creating jobs; it's about keeping themselves in office. They don't care how much of your money they have to spend to do it, they will do it, even if it leads to gross mismanagement of our national economy.

Every Australian knows about the sports rorts: Mr Morrison's sports rorts, the funnelling of hundreds of millions of dollars to Liberal and National held electorates in a desperate attempt to pork-barrel their seats. Although one minister fell on her sword, the money remained spent and Labor electorates missed out again. It's an economic campaign of punishment. The only savings this government seeks to find are in not spending any money in Labor seats they don't think they can win. If you live in a seat that they don't think they can win, they don't want to give you anything, even though it's your money. They are not investing wisely; they are not investing fairly. They are investing in themselves and in a small part of our country. That's because they have a miserly and small vision. It's time to be done with the Morrison government.

Today's analysis in the Guardian shows that just 15 per cent of projects that were announced under the government's multibillion-dollar infrastructure budget splurge have been endorsed by Infrastructure Australia, the very agency that is there to weigh up: where do we, as Australians, invest our money in our country to get the best value for our dollar? Only 15 per cent of the projects advanced by that body, Infrastructure Australia, were supported by the government. The rest of them they made up themselves for their own advantage. That is a failure of government. It's a sign of a rotten government that does not deserve another term. Imagine how much more debt they're going to plunge us into over another three desperate years of trying to keep office, if they get back.

If all of that wasn't low enough, the government even rorted the disaster relief fund. In the middle of one of the worst floods ever to hit the Northern Rivers, the government denied funding to the local government areas in the federal electorate of Richmond, which is so ably represented by my colleague Justine Elliot. She has worked so hard for her constituency, alongside Janelle Saffin at state level, and they're fighting for a bit of a fair go. People there have everything they've ever owned floating down the street and mud running through their houses, and the country has to wait for Mr Morrison not to show up—sad enough, he had COVID and we can accept that—but he could have sent someone. He could have sent someone to stand up and say: 'I see your suffering. I understand the trauma of your community and I will support you in your hour of need.' But instead of doing the right thing, he failed to exercise a moral compass. He can pretend all he likes, but when Lismore was in flood and in need not only did he not show up but he didn't even bother to send somebody to represent him and do the job that we have a right to expect of our leaders.

The fact is that, when the rain falls and the fires burn, disaster doesn't discriminate—whether you're a Labor voter or a Liberal voter or whether it's a Labor seat or a Liberal seat. Disasters up-end lives and they ruin dreams. People can be powerfully resourceful and can do a great job in their communities, and they will. Australians will rise to the challenge. But there are some things that are bigger than what just a handful of people can do. That is why we collectively elect a government. That is why we pay our taxes. It's so that the government can wisely invest our money to ensure we all benefit, we're all protected and we're all looked after—not in an arbitrary, selfish way that gives them a good grab for the TV or the radio but in a way that actually supports a community in need. Every single time in the last three years of Mr Morrison's shambolic and morally bankrupt government, he has failed that test. Given that, it's no wonder that he shut down entire streets. It's because he's too cowardly now to meet locals anywhere in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales.

I want to talk about debt. The clarion call from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was that Australia had to live within its means, that we had to address an alleged debt and deficit disaster. But, right now, thanks to the rorts and the many wasted programs, the Liberals and their junior partners, the Nationals, have raised Australia's debt to nearly $1 trillion. That is five times the level of debt that Labor left when we left office. Mr Abbott called it a debt and deficit disaster. Look at what this Liberal government that pretends to be a great economic manager has done to our country. What do we have to show for it? I was in the seat of Parkes, talking to people in Dubbo, Wilcannia, Cobar, Broken Hill and out at the Menindee Lakes at Sunset Strip. How did they benefit from the regional infrastructure program that funded a swimming pool in North Sydney? Those opposite laugh when I point that out to them. They know that this government has completely walked away from telling the truth to Australians. It's so twisted, bitter and cynical in its representation of what they've done to this country.

There have been so many Liberal lies, just like the ones about there being no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to education and no cuts to health. Every Australian knows that this government is unfit to govern. It certainly has no economic credentials on which to stand other than its own fanfare of a mythology about the Liberals being good with money. Australians deserve better. They deserve value for money and they deserve integrity in government.


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