Thursday, 15 November 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Answers to Questions
That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.
I rise to take note of answers given by government senators to questions asked by Labor senators. I want to go to a very important question I asked the minister, which was the question as to who actually made the decision to spend $8.2 million on advertising home care packages, when this government knew that the waiting list had blown out.
We know that the government sat on the last two lots of data. They sat on it for weeks and weeks instead of releasing it. When they finally released the last set of data, the waiting list had grown by an additional 13,000 Australians. Now, as it currently stands—we know from the government's own data—there are 121,000 older Australians who are still waiting for their approved packages of care. As I said in my question, there are 56,000 older Australians who have been assessed to get care but are getting nothing—not even level 1 or level 2, let alone levels 3 or 4, which are what the majority of them, 96,000 of them, have been waiting for. This government has failed on every single policy decision when it comes to older Australians. What they've done is spend $8.2 million on advertising home care packages, when the waiting times in some circumstances have blown out to two years.
Just so that those opposite actually understand what they're doing as far as the impact on older Australians goes, let me say that I had a woman email me this morning, having heard the comments I made in a speech yesterday about this blowout in the waiting list, to say: 'People are dying while they wait for their home care package.' That's what the reality is. This lady wrote: 'My husband had cancer of the stomach and liver. He was approved for a level 3 package earlier this year. He was provided with a glossy booklet that promoted and explained how the packages worked et cetera. As my husband's condition seriously deteriorated, I contacted My Aged Care to see when he could start receiving his level 3 package.' It was at this time that this lady learned about the 121,000 older Australians on the national waiting list. She was shocked and in total disbelief that the government promoted the benefit of the home care packages in the glossy booklet but was unable to deliver the care in a timely manner. Her husband passed away last month, before he could receive his level 3 home care package. This poor man went through the whole year very unwell without adequate care. The toll on this lady and her family was just a nightmare. That's just one example. I could go through countless. I outlined three others in my speech yesterday.
The government has been unable to deliver the services. This is a government that has been in charge of this policy area for five years. There have been three ministers. It was this government that actually called a royal commission into its own failures as a government. That's what it's done. It wasn't us calling for a royal commission; it was the government itself, because it has failed.
When the minister today, in his response, tried to suggest it was their idea to have the home care packages, he was blatantly wrong. He doesn't know what he's talking about. They were part of the Living Longer Living Better package, which was developed in consultation with the opposition at the time—that crew over there—and the sector. The framework was already there. All those opposite have had to do is roll out the plans that were established between the Labor government, the sector and the then opposition, and they've failed. They have failed miserably in not being able to do that.
What they want us to do is trust them. Well, the next data is due to be rolled out in the next few weeks, and I warned those opposite yesterday: don't release this new data on Christmas Eve, because you can't hide. They might try to run, but they can't hide from the fact that the waitlist will have blown out by, I would suggest, in excess of another 10,000 to 15,000 older Australians. It was a disgrace and dishonest for the Prime Minister to promise older Australians—when he knifed Malcolm Turnbull—that he would make older Australians a priority. He hasn't. If he calls allowing this wait list to blow out without taking any recourse at all a priority, he is a failure and he should stand condemned.
The cynical use of older Australians by the Australian Labor Party is to be condemned. The simple fact is that, under the previous Labor government, there was no home care approval list. So that of which the Labor Party complain is something they never thought of in government and never implemented, which as a result meant that senior Australians were left in the dark and subjected to unbearable delays in assessment and home care support. When quoting statistics, it's a bit like skimpy bathers: what they show is interesting; what they hide is vital. And what Senator Polley's speech has done is hide that which is vital.
The honourable senator knows exactly what I am about to say. While you are attacking Mr Morrison personally, I advise you that the Liberal-National Party government is rolling out an additional 14,000 higher level packages.
That began on 1 July. They are being rolled out as we speak. Senator Polley, with her insistent interjections, would hope the Australian people are not informed of this information. But I just happen to have the microphone for a few minutes, so I will repeat the fact that there are going to be 14,000 additional high-level packages. They are being rolled out and have been as of 1 July. We will grow overall home care packages from 87,000 to 151,000 over the next four years. So there is a plan. The plan is being implemented. We are seeking to serve the needs—
Senator Polley interjecting—
I rise on a point of order, Madam Deputy President. Senator Polley had her opportunity to speak and take note. I think she is now interjecting more than Senator Abetz is actually speaking. I would also point out, on her point of order—
The facts are, which the Labor Party just don't like hearing, that up to three-quarters of the people on the national list are receiving some form of Commonwealth aged-care support, in any event. Is there a backlog? Yes. What did we inherit from the Australian Labor Party? It was a system that did not even have a proper, orderly list. So people were left in mayhem, uncertainty and insecurity. We are seeking to deal with that by allocating further funds and by telling the Australian people in the aged-care sector what they're entitled to with what is in the scheme of things a relatively small proportion of $8.2 million out of $5,500 million. Do the percentages on that; it's a minuscule percentage. To advise them as to what they actually might be entitled to and how the system is going to be rolled out is something that I think is appropriate.
If the Australian Labor Party were genuinely concerned about older Australians, they would repudiate and cancel their policy in relation to the treatment of franked dividends for those Australians who are seeking to prepare for their own retirement to ensure that they are not a burden on their fellow Australians. But what Mr Shorten and the Australian Labor Party are seeking to do is double-tax our older Australians who so heavily rely, through their self-managed super fund, their own investment or indeed other retirement schemes, on the benefit of getting a reimbursement of tax that is already paid. For many thousands of Australians, that impacts people on an income of less than $18,000. The vast bulk of people who will be impacted will be people who earn less than $87,000 per annum, not the filthy rich. But they're the people from whose pockets Mr Shorten and the Australian Labor Party will be pilfering money to put into Labor's spending spree.
Let's be very clear: when it comes to the actual issue that Senator Polley sought to address, the government has a plan. We are caring for more and more Australians and we will continue to do so on the back of sound economic management. (Time expired)
Oh, has she? Okay, thank you. Today in question time we had another display from this rabble, as my good friend Senator Cameron refers to them, or this muppet show of a government. I think he started calling them the mad muppet show. It is no more evident than it was today in every single answer, but in particular the answer from Senator Fifield. The question that Senator Keneally directed to Senator Fifield regarded the latest example of division and dysfunction that we see from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison-Joyce-Truss-McCormack—whoever's next—government, and that is the display of disunity, particularly from Senator Fierravanti-Wells in her most recent opinion piece in TheSydney Morning Herald yesterday. It's always interesting to see what happens when former ministers go to the backbench. They discover their honesty gene, their openness gene, and are more at liberty to talk about what they really think about their government's policies and about their own ministerial colleagues. Senator Fierravanti-Wells left us in absolutely no doubt about what she thinks of the new environment minister, Ms Melissa Price, by labelling her 'an environment minister on L-plates'. It's hard to imagine a more cutting jibe to receive from one of your own colleagues than that remark, and Senator Fierravanti-Wells certainly was happy to dish it out. I think we are all surprised to see Senator Fierravanti-Wells be consigned to the backbench after the most recent leadership spill. She at least had the good grace to be quite open with former Prime Minister Turnbull about his performance, more so than many of her colleagues. While many of her colleagues quite openly voted against Mr Turnbull in the most recent leadership ballot, most of them have kept their spots and in some cases have been promoted. Senator Fierravanti-Wells has been picked on and has been consigned to the backbench, so it's no wonder that she wants to tell the Australian public what she really thinks about her colleagues.
What gave rise to these comments from Senator Fierravanti-Wells?
It was about the allegations that surfaced in our last sitting weeks that Minister Price offended a key Pacific leader, former Kiribati President Mr Tong, at a restaurant in Canberra by essentially accusing him of really only turning up to Canberra wanting more cash from the Australian government; she allegedly said that she had her chequebook out. This was an appalling slur to throw against one of our Pacific neighbours, in an area where we should and rightly do have significant influence. That's a pretty good way to make sure that our Pacific neighbours don't really think much of us—to treat them like that. It was, in fact, reminiscent of the comments that we heard from another minister in this government, Minister Dutton, when, in talking about climate change, he was caught saying that it's hard to care about things when you've got water lapping at your door—again, deeply offensive remarks made at the expense of our Pacific neighbours. But that's just another day in the job of a minister in this government.
Of course that's not the only foreign policy faux pas that we've seen from ministers, right up to the Prime Minister of late, with the embarrassing, deeply damaging and growing rift that we see between Australia and our largest near neighbour, Indonesia, over the Prime Minister's clearly political but counterproductive move to announce the possible move of the Australian embassy in Israel. We know that our relationship with Indonesia is vital to our future, whether it be on an economic basis, a security basis or a cultural basis, and we've seen Prime Minister Morrison happy to junk that relationship and put it into real danger just to try to score a few votes in Wentworth, which, of course, miserably failed.
So, whether it be Minister Price wandering around restaurants in Canberra offending Pacific leaders or whether it be the Prime Minister running around with his baseball cap on offending Indonesian leaders, it seems that this government just doesn't care about how Australia is regarded by our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific, which is a very short-sighted approach and one that shows that this government has lost any sense of where it wants to take the country. This latest outburst from Senator Fierravanti-Wells about the L-plate environment minister is just the latest incident of division and dysfunction that we've seen from this government. They have completely lost control. Everyone in Canberra is talking about what a boring week this has been because the government has no agenda that it wants to put forward. All the government have time for is to fight with each other and throw insults at each other in the newspapers. (Time expired)
We started very late, but we'll get there in the end. Reflecting on question time today, reflecting on question time this week and reflecting on question time this year, we've seen a lot of questions from those opposite which remind me greatly—perhaps I'm going to reveal my age a little bit here—of the Peanuts cartoon where Lucy sets up the football for Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown runs up to kick it, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown falls flat on his backside. That's what the Labor Party have been doing all week: falling flat on their backsides with a series of questions, including today, where they run up, they think they're on a winner, they think they're going to kick that ball to the other end of the field, but they swing and miss and land on their backsides yet again. They want to bring up things that happened over a decade ago. They want to bring up L-plate leaders. What about the original L-plate leader, Mark Latham, who those opposite wanted to be Prime Minister?
Those opposite wanted Mark Latham to be Prime Minister. It's not your problem now, but it was your problem, Senator Watt.
What are this government and this Prime Minister doing? This Prime Minister and this government are getting on with the job. We're seeing the Australian economy grow at a great rate, 3.4 per cent, surpassing market expectations. It is a stronger rate than the world's seven largest advanced economies—the USA, Canada, France, Italy, the UK and Japan—and faster than the OECD average. What does that economic growth lead to? The most important thing it leads to is jobs, something that those opposite claim to care about—I have my suspicions. What did this government commit to achieving? It committed to achieving one million new jobs within five years, and we have more than achieved that—in fact, 1,144,500 jobs since 2013. Actually, I think that figure is slightly out of date. I think it's more than that now.
We see a government delivering on GST reform. The government has delivered something that many members opposite said could never be done. Western Australian Labor members of parliament said it couldn't be done, because it was too hard politically, but this government has delivered it.
For the first time, we've seen a significant reduction in the welfare rolls. This leads to a double benefit. It means more people are in work, so there is more tax revenue, but it also means that our expenditure is less. And we're giving those people a chance at a new future—not stuck in a welfare-dependent situation. Contrary to what those opposite try to draw out—the political, the 'inside the beltway' stories—this government is getting on with the job.
We are signing free trade agreements. Again, those opposite are walking away from a long-term bipartisan commitment to open and free trade. It is very sad that the Labor Party has fallen so far since the days of Hawke and Keating. I'm surprised to find myself saying that, because Hawke and Keating were certainly no favourites of mine. For the Labor Party to walk away from the benefits of trade and the jobs it creates is quite extraordinary.
Today we had an extraordinary attack on the Home Support Program. Labor didn't even have a list when they were in power. They criticised this government for actually finding out the scope of the issue that needs to be addressed. That is the great evil—when they were last in power, only a few short years ago, no such list existed. Again, our government is getting on with the job. The Morrison government committed $1.6 billion for extra home care packages, a rollout of 14,000 additional high-level packages, growing overall home care packages from 87,000 to 151,000 over the next four years. In so many ways this government is getting on with the job of delivering for Australians, unlike those opposite, who just want to play political games.
Today, question time was all about captain's calls, big sticks, pinpoints, L-plates and the deep wounds that exist on the coalition side. Captain's calls: here we have a Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who decided just days out from the Wentworth by-election that it was time to unilaterally announce that Australia was considering moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. There was no consultation with our armed forces, many of our public servants had to find out about it from the media and there was no consideration from the Prime Minister as to how this might affect our neighbour to the north, Indonesia. Well, we now know how it affects them. They're very upset and very angry, and understandably so—and we have a free trade agreement that has been put on ice. Senators on the other side have gotten up in this debate and talked about the free trade agreement. They didn't mention Indonesia, the one that this Prime Minister has stabbed in the heart with his captain's call to move the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. We heard from Minister Ciobo that there might be only a five per cent chance of that. He refuses to confirm that he said it. Minister Cormann refuses to confirm that he said it here today in this chamber. So now we just sit here and wait, yet again, for the Prime Minister to make another captain's call.
But that's all right, because they've got their big stick. They're waving their big stick around at the energy companies, with one of the most illiberal ideas you can imagine. That is a party over there, a government, that used to be believe in the market. Now they're talking about the forced divestment of power companies—how extraordinary! Labor shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, said this is a policy more suited to Venezuela than to Australia, and he was right. This is the big stick they're waving around, because they have no energy policy.
Amazingly, we have a government that has no policy to bring down the price of energy, to bring down emissions or, indeed, to secure our energy future. We're missing out on jobs. We're missing out on opportunity, because we're not investing in renewables. But don't worry: they've got a big stick; they're going to wave it around. Meanwhile, we have a minister who cannot pinpoint when Australia's emissions are going to start coming down. I'm not asking for the date; I'm asking for the year. She can't tell us that. 'She can't pinpoint it,' she said last night in a radio interview.
Minister Fifield had information that was a bit more specific. Perhaps he should choose to share it with the Minister for the Environment, Melissa Price, who seems intent on proving Senator Fierravanti-Wells's point that Minister Price is an L-plate minister. Anyone who has ever driven with an L-plate driver knows that it can be quite scary. We now have an L-plate driver in the driver's seat of our environment portfolio and, quite frankly, she's driving the environment—she's driving this country—off a cliff. The reality is she is an L-plate minister.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells simply spoke the truth in her opinion piece, yet we have this minister unable to pinpoint when we're going to get emissions down in this country and unable to acknowledge that her words to the former President of Kiribati were deeply offensive. It's no wonder Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who, as a minister, worked so hard in the Pacific portfolio, felt the need to step up and provide some dignity and reflection where Minister Price had failed to do so. But don't worry, Minister Price had her say last night. She's not concerned about the hurt she might have caused to our Pacific neighbours; she's concerned about the hurt that has been caused to her. She is deeply, deeply wounded, she says, as a result of what Senator Fierravanti-Wells wrote.
I think this points to the abject failure of this government—their chaos, their division, their internal bickering, their hurt feelings back and forth. They're not focusing on Australians and Australian families and on what they need and what they desire. From Senator Polley today in her questions and in her speech we heard how many tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of Australians are waiting for their home care package or have no home care package at all.
I'm going to end on this point: all of this chaos and division is hurting real people. When the government is focused on itself and not on real people, what we have are real Australians who are really dying as they wait for their home care. There is a whole range of other areas where this government has cut, but this is shameful today. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.