Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Albanese Government

4:50 pm

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

They've opposed the Housing Australia Future Fund. Senator Polley, I can't believe it either! Given the rate of homelessness in Australia and the struggle that people face finding rental properties, they are opposing the Housing Australia Future Fund. They opposed a legislated emissions reduction target because they think we don't need one. They opposed our industrial relations legislation which was meant to get wages going, and they are opposing our National Reconstruction Fund. Why would they support something that would create manufacturing jobs for Australians? The 'no-alition' —that's what we see here, day in and day out. This is when we saw them get excited. They finally decided that they'd go into bat for the top 0.5 per cent holders of superannuation. Forget 99.5 per cent of Australians. We talk about the average super balance being about 140K. They're out there fighting to the death for the ones who've got over $3 million. I think it's great if you have a successful life, if you invest well and you run businesses and you have great jobs and you grow your wealth. That's fantastic. But don't expect somebody on a low-wage to be paying more tax than a wealthy retiree with $3 million already in their superannuation fund.

Those opposite dare to lecture us on power prices. On their watch, they delayed a key electricity pricing update until after the election. They had the facts. They had the documents. But, like so many other things, they decided to do nothing about it. That's probably a bit of a misrepresentation. They did decide to do something about it. They decided to hide the report under the bedcovers. That is an obscene response to the reality facing Australia in terms of electricity pricing. That report that they didn't want Australians to see showed that prices had more than doubled under their watch from January to March 2022, and the prices continued to climb right up until the election. So ashamed, they were, that they actually hid their work. They hid the facts. But Australians had seen enough by that stage and turfed them out, as they absolutely deserved.

The rank incompetence of those opposite on energy policy was astounding. Despite having floated over a dozen policies—I think it might have been 22 or 23; it's hard to keep track—they never landed a single energy policy. The fact is that, with regard to how much power there was in Australia's system, they left Australia with less power in the system than they got into it. Maybe that's because they had an energy minister who was more committed to forging documents and patting himself on the back on Facebook than actually adding power to the grid. I almost forgot. They did have an extra energy minister—a secret one—in the form of PM Mr Morrison. But, sadly, he couldn't figure out what he wanted to do in this portfolio or any of the others, so they just did nothing of any use. The coalition, in fact, had two energy ministers but no energy policy.

Global inflation, we know, is hurting nations around the world, and Russia's illegal and brutal attempt at conquest has impacted supply chains, along with the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inflation is coming down, and we are doing far better than many other nations around the world because this is a global phenomenon. But let the facts speak for themselves. The worst quarter for inflation in this period of time was under the LNP Morrison government in 2022 prior to the election. Those opposite, frankly, have no integrity. They do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to broken promises.

Just off the top of my head, here is the soundtrack of some of my memories of nine years of watching the previous government day in and day out: cuts to the ABC and SBS; cuts to health care; cuts to education funding; no national integrity commission; more expensive power; less energy generation to the system; destruction of Australian manufacturing; and a decade of stagnation. The only sorts of reforms were the ones that they were dragged kicking and screaming into.

Labor will continue our plan to fight inflation and keep bringing down the cost of living. Those opposite had nine long years to deliver cheaper power prices, to make super more sustainable and to fix Medicare. Instead, all we got was a doubling of power bills, increasingly unaffordable super tax concessions and GP wait times longer than ever. Instead of moving stunt motions like this one, those opposite should reflect on their record of failure and the reason they were turfed out at the last election. In opposition, they have a chance to participate in great public debate to lift the nation. But what do we see? No new policies from them, no new initiatives, no soul-searching and no introspection following their crushing defeat. Instead, they choose to be the no-alition.

Many of the same characters from the Morrison government are still on the frontbench, including Angus Taylor, whose litany of failures as a minister and endless stream of scandals—one after the other after the other—have not prevented him from becoming shadow Treasurer. Then we have Mr Stuart Robert and the robodebt scandal. He is now the shadow Assistant Treasurer, despite telling the royal commission that he saw it as his ministerial duty to openly promote falsehoods about the illegal robodebt scheme and stick with his mates over telling the truth to the Australian people. Whatever happened to ministerial accountability? It died under Mr Morrison. Sussan Ley, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, returned to the frontbench after being sacked as health minister after using taxpayer funds to visit the Gold Coast to shop for a new holiday unit. Australians don't trust those who are on the opposition benches. They don't trust them on integrity, and for very good reason. That is why Australians voted to kick them out.

The Albanese government is absolutely committed to improving rural health. But to fix what has been broken due to the compounding impact of so many bad decisions made by the previous government simply cannot be done overnight. This is a consequence of a government that governed by press release rather than doing policy work and making the necessary careful investment in building a great workforce in the healthcare sector and providing the services Australia needs. It is a long walk back to improving rural and regional health for Australians. We saw the scrapping of the National Health Partnership Agreement—torn up in the first days of Mr Abbott's government—and, with that, the destruction of the GP co-payment model, which saw hundreds of doctors leave primary care, leading to some of the longest wait times in history.

I have had GPs tell me that they couldn't sell their practice or even give it away for free, so ruined was the business of GPs by the LNP government. They actually broke the business model for GPs, and now they come in here bleating about how hard it is to see a doctor. They ruined the ecosystem. It is no small thing what they did; it is huge. They actually broke Australians' access to GPs—and it is being felt most keenly in regional and rural parts of Australia.

It is pretty bad when it is only an hour and a half out of Sydney to get to the Central Coast, where I live, but you have to plan to be sick six weeks in advance. That is how denuded of a proper workforce the Australian healthcare system is. When I travel to regional and rural New South Wales I hear stories about the inability to have a child anywhere near where you live and having to leave home a month before your pregnancy completes and stay in a hotel somewhere like Dubbo because there is nowhere you can get the health care you need in north-western New South Wales.

That doesn't happen overnight. It took a lot of effort from those opposite to so totally break the connection that Australians rightly have with primary health care—and they expect it, because Labor delivered Medicare, and they actually got the benefit of Labor's forward-thinking policy and investment in access to health care. We're going to fix it. We're absolutely going to fix it. But it's going to be hard. Mayors have described the GP coverage in the Eyre Peninsula as being as bad as in Afghanistan. But Labor is going to build 50 Medicare urgent-care clinics to take the pressure off, including in Albury and on the Central Coast.

Emergency departments simply can't cope. We need to ensure that Australians can get the care they need in a timely way—the slashing of prices for hundreds of medical scripts and capping the maximum co-payment down by $12.50 to $30. We've done more in the first nine months of our government than those opposite did in their entire nine years, and we're going to keep working to make sure everyday Australians are getting their fair share. In retrospect, I'd love for the opposition to keep moving motions like this so we can point out the differences and what can be achieved in nine months by a government with vision and integrity. (Time expired)


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