Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that, at 8:30 am today, 26 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Ciccone:
Pursuant to Standing Order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The Morrison Government's continual failure to deliver, leaving Australians to suffer the consequences.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
We have a very broad but a very apt MPI on the table today. It give us an opportunity to highlight the Morrison government's continual failure to deliver, leaving Australians to suffer the consequences. This is happening in every corner of our nation, whether you're a tradie in the outer suburbs who's lost your job; whether you're a childcare worker who lost your job during the so-called free child care, because your childcare centre couldn't afford to stay open; whether you are a casual worker who didn't qualify for JobKeeper and is now unemployed; or whether you're a disability support pensioner who didn't get any extra payment but have an increasingly higher cost of living because of things like needing to catch taxis instead of being able to take public transport. We've heard this day after day in question time answers: the government is very happy to deliver the Prime Minister's, 'Scotty from marketing', advertising campaign messages, but they refuse to acknowledge the Prime Minister—
On a point of order: it is disorderly to refer to members of the other chamber—or any chamber, for that matter—in any way other than by their appropriate titles. Madam Acting Deputy President, I wonder if you could remind Senator Pratt to use appropriate titles when referring to members of parliament.
Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is very focused on his advertising but not on execution and delivery, as the answers given in question time from all of those opposite refuse to acknowledge any of their mistakes or bungles—or 'misexecutions'. We saw that just this afternoon from Senator Colbeck, where he was lauding the seniors emergency food delivery as an example of where they were making the best-laid plans in case they were needed. Well, they were needed. I've spoken to many a pensioner who was grateful for home delivery from Coles or Woolies or who lined up outside the many food banks in our nation. One of the reasons they were lining up was they couldn't buy toilet paper because, when they went down to the shopping centre, there was none there. So don't try to tell me that pensioners didn't need that extra support during that time. You just didn't get around to rolling it out.
Let's have a look at some of the other examples. There was a massive underspend on JobKeeper. Billions of dollars that was supposed to keep people connected to their jobs hasn't been spent—and guess what? We have a rising and record level of unemployment. My office has been inundated with calls from people who've had trouble getting through to Centrelink to get the support that they need. This is off the back of an overstretched system that was forced to deliver this government's ridiculous and unfair robodebt. When Centrelink collapsed because the system was overloaded by the number of calls and applications, the government didn't acknowledge it was their fault; they said there had been a cyberattack—again, marketing and spin, 'nothing to see here'. But the devil is always in the execution, and this government is failing at every turn.
Let's look at robodebt. Since 2017, we've seen example after example of how unfair and unjust it was, and heard claims that it was illegal, but the government didn't listen. Instead, to prove to the government that it was illegal, they had to be taken to court. Yet what we do get from those opposite? During a motion to take note of answers this week, I heard Senator Stoker justify the use of robodebt, despite the fact that the Prime Minister had just apologised for its use. I think Senator Stoker said something along these lines—and she'll correct me and pull me into line later if I'm wrong: 'The government's got the right to retrieve debts that are owed. That's our responsibility to the taxpayer.' And of course that is the case. But the government could not prove that these debts were in fact owed at all, hence the illegality of the whole program. You're not supposed to send a debt collector out after someone, which is what this government did—you sent debt collectors out to chase people for their Centrelink debt—unless you can prove that a debt is actually owed, which you couldn't.
Let's look at the home renovation scheme promising to keep tradies in jobs—well, that's if you qualify. I don't know anyone who is planning to spend $150,000 on renovating their house and who can also meet the income limits. But, even if it does get things started, the scheme cuts out later this year. You've got to have your contract signed and start work, I think, by December.
But everything that this government is doing is going to be snapped back. It absolutely terrifies me that any good work that this government is doing with the stimulus that it's injecting into the economy might be completely undone because of its snapback agenda—snapbacks before the economy is ready. Your execution of these issues is absolutely dreadful.
I call on the government to really think about what you're doing. We need a properly executed plan for our nation in these times of need, and yet, day after day after day, all that is revealed is the terrible, terrible mess that you are making. It is time for this government to fess up to its mistakes instead of just relying, time and time again, on your marketing pitches—marketing pitches that have absolutely nothing to do with the truth for ordinary Australians, who are suffering the consequences.
While there are rorts, scams, secret bugging, secret recordings, funny money, and cash deals in Aldi bags going on within the Australian Labor Party, they come in here pretending to the Australian people that somehow the Morrison government is not delivering. Here I have a document of 20 pages, with 20 achievements on each page. If you know your numbers, that's about 400 achievements that we can point to. But you would have thought that the Labor Party, having been in opposition now for some seven years, would be using an opportunity such as this to tell the Australian people about their positive forward agenda. No. All we heard was seven minutes worth of criticism, of unrelenting negativity—no alternative plan for the Australian people, no plan for jobs, no reason for the Australian Labor Party to put jobs first.
We in the coalition know that jobs are vital: vital for people's mental health, physical health, self-esteem and social interaction—vitally important. That is why the Prime Minister and the government have said, time and time again: 'Jobs are front and centre of our policy development and our policy delivery.'
But what do the Labor Party do, being confronted with a huge scandal in Victoria? It looks as though it's leaked over from Victoria into the bordering New South Wales. Possibly they should have had border protection between those two states! But Labor in those two states are absolutely wrecked with scandal. What do they come in here to do? They come into this place making false assertions to try to distract attention from the dilemma that they face. So we had the spectre of the would-be Prime Minister of this country addressing CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, and I think his big-picture vision was that we might have national drivers licences—really big-picture stuff! Visionary! I'm sure that people like Bob Hawke and John Curtin would be thinking: 'If only we could have come up with such a dynamic policy formulation for the future of our nation'!
Why is the Australian Labor Party so bereft of any policies? Because it is so consumed in internal warfare, branch stacking, funny money, Aldi bags—you name it. So, even when the Morrison government is delivering—from a space agency right through to child protection, right across the board—we have the hapless opposition betwixt and between, deciding whether or not they might actually support mandatory sentencing for those that abuse the most precious thing within our community—namely, our children. They agreed with mandatory sentencing for border protection, but not for people who abuse our children, the next generation? Where was the policy thought? Where was the policy formulation? Let alone where was the moral compass in determining that mandatory sentencing should not be part and parcel of the criminal law—especially when you are confronted with the fact that 39 per cent of those convicted of child sex offences weren't sent to jail? It's hard to imagine a more horrific crime, and yet the Labor Party are betwixt and between, not knowing how or why they should be protecting our children, because they're consumed by their internal warfare, their internal hatred, their factionalism—you name it—and so they take their eye off the ball.
If we want to talk about the litany of policy failures, can I remind those opposite that, if you live in a glasshouse, it's very foolish to throw rocks. That of course is what the Australian Labor Party have done with bringing this forward, because, if the Labor Party want to throw rocks at policy failures, I can hear one pane of glass smashing as I mention live cattle exports, another pane of glass smashing as I mention Pink Batts, another pane of glass being smashed when I mention the cash splash to the dead, and so the list goes on. And who could forget Fuelwatch or GROCERYchoice—the list of policy failures? And then, of course, on top of it all was the legacy of deficit and debt, which is a mortgage and an imposition on the next generation of Australians—completely and utterly immoral, in circumstances where you put such a millstone around the neck of the next generation.
So I suppose I'm somewhat gobsmacked at the cheek of the Australian Labor Party to come in here to assert that somehow Mr Morrison has failed to deliver, in circumstances where we have faced a pandemic—a once-in-a-century problem. I think most people recognise that Prime Minister Morrison has handled that exceptionally well, with his bringing together of the national cabinet and dealing with the border closures to protect Australia, before the World Health Organization was even willing to admit that we had a pandemic on our hands and that closing our international borders might be a good idea. Prime Minister Morrison is leading from the front, delivering for the Australian people. All you have to do is a comparison of the death rates. The last time I looked, we had, I think, four deaths per million of population whereas our cousins in the United Kingdom were confronted with 482 per million. There was 100 times the mortality and fatality rate in the UK, yet the Australian Labor Party comes in here and talks about policy failure. Excuse me! With a record like that, the world is looking to Australia, as we speak, asking how it is that we have achieved such a good result. It is through hard policy discussion and delivery and making it happen.
An opposition senator interjecting—
We have this hapless senator from New South Wales interjecting, suggesting we were listening to Victorian Labor. That would be the last thing anybody in Australia would want to do today—listen to what's coming out of the Victorian Labor Party—unless you are interested in 60 Minutes and all the disclosures there. But I would have thought that using the Victorian Labor Party as the gleaming star example of Labor Party success is indicative of how bereft the federal Labor Party is. They actually look to the Victorian Labor Party as some sort of guiding light! How desperate would you have to be to look to Mr Andrews and his state government for that? How many ministers have now resigned—I think it was three or four—and how many others are under a cloud?
I say to those opposite: if you want to be treated seriously by the Australian people, come forward with a positive policy agenda. It is no use just throwing rocks and hoping that the Australian people will be distracted from your own failure in relation to policy. Just look at defence. In six years not a single major project was started or thought about—let alone delivering jobs for our fellow Australians. Be it in defence, be it in welfare, be it in border protection, be it in trying to balance the budget—the list goes on and on and on of positive policy achievements for the betterment of the welfare of the people of Australia. That stands in stark contradistinction to what the Australian Labor Party has to offer—scandal, scams, bugging each other and reporting each other to the police. And, all the while, they fail to deliver a positive agenda for the Australian people. So, I am more than happy to support Mr Morrison and his government. (Time expired)
I rise to make a contribution on this MPI and to raise the Morrison government's failure to adequately invest in the care economy. The government is failing to take the opportunity to make sure that, as we come out of this crisis, we focus on a better normal: addressing our health, economic, climate and inequality crises. An element where the government has been missing is underinvesting in the care economy, which must be part of our recovery. For too long, we have ignored the wellbeing and economic benefits from investing in social and community services. Investment in social infrastructure, such as community and social services, education, health, aged care and child care, has a positive impact on the whole of society. Not only does this address inequality and wellbeing; it increases productivity and generates future revenue. A focus on preventative health and social care is an investment in future wellbeing that also reduces the need for further public expenditure if we are addressing these issues.
New research from The Open University shed light on the economic and social benefits of investing in, as they call it, the care industry. Research has found that if Australia invested one per cent of its GDP in the care industry it would result in raising the employment rate by 1.2 per cent. If we invested the same amount in the construction industry it would only increase the employment rate by 0.2 per cent. That's not to say construction isn't important. Issues such as public transport, renewable energy and social housing must be invested in, but that is not enough for our recovery.
Furthermore, investment in the care economy would help reduce the gender employment gap. The research showed that 79 per cent of new jobs created through investment in the care industry would be filled by women. There are clearly striking benefits to investing in education, health, social services and community services—benefits that you would think any government investing in and navigating its way out of this crisis and recession would be interested in capitalising on. It just shows how critical the care economy is to our recovery. This research is very important and I urge the government to take it on board. The social fabric of our nation is important. In the midst of a recession, we need a new way of doing things. I urge the government to recognise the value of the care economy and start investing to deliver access to essential services for all Australians.
I listened with some interest to the answer that the Minister for Aged Care gave during question time. I don't think there would be any other country in the Western world where the Minister for Aged Care would simultaneously be the Minister for Youth, but that's what the Morrison government has delivered to the people of Australia. Senator Colbeck's answers in question time are an enduring delight for everybody, I'm sure. He was asked about the performance of the government in relation to a promise that the government made to deliver 36,000 food packages to elderly Australians. Like many of the announcements that the Morrison government makes, they're breathlessly made with press releases, videos, government ministers standing in front of microphones but very little delivery. In this case 36,000 were promised but 38 were delivered. Even my high-school maths tells me that that's not 10 per cent, not one per cent but 0.01 per cent delivery. It's an emblem of the government's failure. It's an emblem of the cancer that goes to the heart of this government's approach to policy delivery and delivering for all Australians.
Today, in the other place, the Prime Minister was asked about the impact on women from Yass who have to travel to either Canberra or Goulburn to give birth. His answer was that there might need to be some improvements to the road system. He is out of touch, out of his depth, entirely devoted to spin. He has no capacity for the policy substance. And there are so many examples.
The National Party doesn't have a Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture in this place. On the commitments the government has made to Australian agriculture and the Australian farming industry: biosecurity levy? No delivery. A real-time payment platform for dairy farmers, breathlessly announced in the election campaign? The minister crawled back from that proposition today—another policy failure, another failure to deliver on behalf of this government. That would have meant something for Australian dairy farmers. The government promise to deal with $1 milk and the floor price for dairy farmers? No delivery. Drought response? No delivery. Not all the money has gone out the door—the government appears incompetent at delivering money to Australian farmers. They can fill the advertising budgets of the agencies and send people driving all over the country, but there's no real delivery.
Look at the coronavirus response, which I listened to Senator Abetz talk about. The absolute disaster of policy failure on coronavirus in the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom and the failure of government responses in those places, driven by the kind of politics that animates some people on the government's backbench, is a cautionary tale. In contrast the Australian public health response so far has delivered a very good outcome, but the Prime Minister took a very long time to get to there; it was only the response of the state premiers that dragged him to reaching the right policy conclusions. Meanwhile, in New South Wales, the failure of Border Force, the Border Force minister and the Prime Minister to stop the Ruby Princess debacle has delivered misery to the four corners of the Australian continent—misery in every state, infections in every state and many, many deaths as a result of that policy failure.
Then there's the coalition's economic response. There's no certainty about what's going to happen when there's a snapback of the jobseeker payment. Prior to the announcement of the scheme, it was universally acknowledged by everybody except those on the other side that Centrelink payments were too low for unemployed Australians. The snapback will have dire consequences. JobKeeper, a policy demanded by Labor, was mocked by people in here up until a few days before the government announced it. But there are serious policy failures there too: millions of Australian casuals excluded, universities excluded and international students left to starve. Australia's reputation oversees has been shattered, with international students who can't pay their bills and can't get enough to eat queuing for food in all of our major cities. And the entertainment and arts sector has been left to fail by a government that doesn't understand its responsibilities.
There's also the enormous $60 billion error in the forecasting and delivery of that policy. As the Leader of the Opposition said, you could see it from space. The Americans managed to put a man on the moon for less than $60 billion, in today's dollar terms. It is the biggest forecasting and delivery error in Australian history. I imagine it's probably the biggest error in the Southern Hemisphere. The one thing that the Minister for Finance can be confident of, the one achievement he can notch up there, is that nobody else will make an error that big. He is in the record books for the biggest policy error in Australian political history. That is the end of the Morrison government's economic credibility. They needn't knock at the door of economic credibility ever again. It's overconfidence and smugness that lead to policy neglect, and that error has real consequences. Rating agencies made decisions about the position they took in relation to the Australian economy. People made investment decisions. Many more people are unemployed because of that policy failure.
The HomeBuilder scheme—you couldn't design such a scheme even if you got the cleverest people in the country and said to them: 'I want you to design a scheme that reaches almost nobody, and, for those that it does reach, I want it to fund them a little bit extra to do a project that they were already going to do.' They devised a policy scheme that would provide no extra stimulus to the Australian economy—none—but drive up inequality, which is emblematic of this government's approach.
Pre-COVID, the government had nothing to boast about. There was downward pressure on wages—flatlining wages; downward pressure on retail spending; declining business investment; and decreased productivity. Monetary policy was on its knees, with the Reserve Bank begging the government to actually do something. Fiscal policy was in all sorts of trouble, and there was no plan.
On all sorts of other policy areas, like the federal ICAC the government promised they would deliver—no delivery. On energy policy, Senator Canavan's favourite thing, there are plenty of policies—there have been 17 of them—but none have been delivered. They've managed to construct an environment in energy policy where prices go up, emissions go up, investment goes down and confidence is shattered. The manufacturing industry has been forced offshore because of their policy failure and incapacity to develop a plan. Senator Canavan's mad plan for a new, expensive coal-fired power station would only serve to add to the policy chaos in energy policy on the other side of the chamber and push prices up further. It would increase emissions further and drive more industry offshore. He is smart enough to know it but he will continue to press that case because it suits him. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices. There is robodebt. Finally, in terms of delivery, we have the government's position in relation to Australia Post. Well, policy delivery there will mean that, because of Scott Morrison's plan for Australia Post, people in regional areas will get their mail later.
The problem with these people is that they believe their own spin. They believe their own spin and they are condemned to repeat it. On the grave and serious issues that face Australia in terms of its future economy—Australia's place in a more dangerous world; dealing with climate change; making sure that we reconcile effectively with our First Australians; and the future of our rivers and our country towns—they are not up to the task of charting a course for modern Australia in very challenging times.
I thought this MPI was going to focus on the failure to deliver for Australians during coronavirus. That's what Senator Ayres was focused on for most of his contribution, but you could tell he ran out of steam because he didn't have much more to say by the end and started talking about energy policy and all these other things that we have disagreements on.
It is a shame that the Australian Labor Party can't bring themselves to share a bit of the pride that I think most Australians feel in how the country has responded over the past few months. It's been a challenging time for our nation. It's been more challenging for some than others. One thing I think we as a nation can take heart from is that, overall, we have responded in a united, committed, determined way to tackle this virus and to support each other through it. That cooperation, that determination, has been led by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He's led that commitment and he's been supported by other governments around the country. I'm happy to say he's been supported by governments of the other side of politics, of the Labor Party, and by Liberal-National governments across the country, who have come together to cooperate in support to do the right thing by our country.
What I'm most proud of, though, is how the Australian people have come together to fight this virus and have overall complied with the onerous restrictions placed on their livelihoods. In good humour, and with steely determination, they have sought to respond and adjust to the changing economic circumstances facing them. I'm astounded by the resilience of so many small-business people in this country who have had their livelihoods turned upside down but have dusted themselves off, gone on with what they could do and made the best of what has been a pretty hard road for some. That's what I'm proud of. It's a shame that the opposition can't bring themselves to express even one iota of that pride in that shared achievement of this country.
By any measure, this nation has responded as well as, if not better than, almost any country in the world to this threat. We have stayed largely united. We have complied with the restrictions and we have done what we needed to do to protect the safety of others, and we are supporting each other in the fallout from what we've had to do and also in the rebuilding effort that is to come. That is something I think we should take pride in.
That's not to say that every decision governments around the country have made has been precisely perfect. But, overall, we have made sure that we have responded in a way that has protected Australians' health, that we have supported those who have needed assistance and that we are now also focused on rebuilding and creating jobs as we recover from what's happened in the last few months. I think our Liberal-National government has been particularly responsive and has made sure that it's parked any ideological commitments, or ones we may have previously made, and done what is right.
The problem here is that the Australian Labor Party haven't quite caught up with the program. They still think that somehow the caricature they present of the Liberal National government is true, that somehow we're evil mean-spirited people who only want to deliver budget surpluses because we like to be evil and mean spirited. No. We deliver those surpluses because they're important, to protect the future generations of Australia. But when other priorities come along—as they have, here, in the last few months—we adjust, because the end objective is to deliver for Australians. And that is what we have done.
We must, though, at some stage, return to the important point that we cannot keep spending forever. We have to be mindful of the debt that has been racked up, because all of the spending, all of the assistance we've provided in the last few months, has been borrowed money. We've had to borrow a lot of it from overseas, to support Australians. It's the right thing to do right now, but it has to be repaid. It is not our money, down here. It is the Australian people's debt that will be repaid, from themselves and their children and grandchildren, and we will commit ourselves to the prudent application of funds to support Australians, to get us through this crisis and rebuild our nation.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I support this submission. In recent letters to the Prime Minister—in March, April and May—we expressed concern over the government's use of flawed modelling data to justify locking us all away and causing untold damage to our economy, businesses and jobs. The government's responses to these letters did not address the real issues, yet they stated: 'The government is well aware of the heavy economic and social toll created by the restrictions.' Today, now, we need to know where the plan is to rebuild our businesses and jobs—or will the Prime Minister just cut the COVID lifeline and feed our workers and businesses to the sharks?
We are already hearing about insolvency practices preparing to wind up many struggling Australian businesses, and as many as one in six could disappear soon. Back in the global financial crisis, the Labor government applied academic models that left us with high budget deficits and public debt. Yet they did not address the real problems, and soon we may have a national debt of well over $1 trillion—and nothing to show for it. What due diligence was done on flawed infection modelling from Professor Ferguson in Britain? That locked us all up. If this government had learnt early from nations like Taiwan and promptly adopted rigorous testing, combined with strict isolation for people with the virus and isolation of the vulnerable, the rest would have been returned to work far sooner, with minimal economic disruption. Taiwan, for example, isolated the sick and vulnerable. The healthy continued working. They have a strong economy. Their health is 15 times better than Australia's. The Prime Minister will really be tested in October, when the support stops and we see businesses and our economy unravel.
At the start of this pandemic, as many Australians across the country watched daily press conferences, each time the number went up about the restrictions that will be put in place I know that many Australians' stomachs just sank—particularly our arts and entertainment workers, who knew that, with every new restriction announced and increased, their jobs would be some of the first to go and some of the last to come back. I know this because when those announcements were being made I was sitting next to an arts worker: my wife. As the ghost lights were switched on in theatres across the country, this government ghosted arts workers.
In Far North Queensland, we have a vibrant arts community and this is backed up by a strong line-up of Indigenous performers from the Cape and the Torres Strait Islands and other regions across outback Queensland. Every year several arts and dance festivals are held, including the Cairns international arts festival, which has had to go online this year. It is incredibly disappointing, I know, for many of those performers and workers that the income that they get from the events that were due to be held won't be coming in this year. But it is even more devastating that those workers were not included in the government's plans to support people through JobKeeper.
There might be some people in here that think that regional Queenslanders don't care about the arts, but I know that that's not true, because they talk to me everywhere I go in regional Queensland about the arts industry. I know this because I was in regional Queensland, in Stanthorpe, when the government axed the arts department. I was in Stanthorpe because they were facing a water crisis. I was pleased to find out, apart from the fact that they were talking about water security, that one of the things that they were very concerned about was this government's record on the arts.
Arts and entertainment workers are among millions excluded from the government's JobKeeper program. The structure of JobKeeper was designed in a way to exclude performers employed in the arts and entertainment sector, and it is having real-life consequences. These workers, who often make ends meet from gig to gig, have been forced to deal with the complete shutdown of their industry on their own. We know that, in many parts of regional Queensland and other regional areas across the country, arts and entertainment workers are actually employed by local councils, and local councils' workers were also excluded from JobKeeper. But, in another cruel blow, many arts and entertainment workers fund the jobs that they love so much by picking up casual hospitality jobs from time to time. Those jobs were also excluded from JobKeeper, unless they had worked for their employer for more than 12 months.
These heartless exclusions really cut deep, and that's because it hurts when you feel like you're not worth government support even though you do a valuable job. Arts and entertainment workers do the jobs that they do because they love their work. Their creativity is tied up in their identity, and I know that it would be absolutely devastating for them to not be able to do that work right now. They understand the reasons why and the restrictions that are in place and they want to get back to work as soon as those restrictions are lifted. But, throughout this period, they've been doing that on their own.
Of course, the government won't even acknowledge that there is a problem, even though they have been whispering now for a little while about a specific rescue package for the arts sector. If the government is going to raise expectations for these workers, it is better to deliver genuine support for workers. There is an official parliamentary petition calling on the Morrison government to support arts and entertainment workers through the coronavirus crisis, and it has passed more than 30,000 signatures this week. This incredible support makes this one of the most successful parliamentary petitions in recent years, with three weeks yet to run. The response is yet more evidence that this is an industry in crisis, crying out for help from this government, and it is an industry supported by our community.
We have called for a comprehensive industry support package, including support for workers themselves, many of whom have been shut out of the government's JobKeeper wage subsidy. At the start of June, the government gave those workers a glimmer of hope, as I said, by suggesting that there would be a rescue package on the way, but now, two weeks later, there's still nothing, and these workers are desperately waiting for that assistance. Why did the government raise expectations just to let these people down once again? The Palaszczuk Labor government has delivered $42.5 million for the arts industry, and that includes $22.5 million announced yesterday. That funding will focus on stabilising local art companies and see that jobs for artists and arts workers are protected.
We know that arts workers are resilient. The show must and will go on. As I said at the beginning of my speech, many ghost lights were lit in theatres all across the country during this time. I thought I'd share some words from Ange Sullivan, who is Head of Lighting at the Sydney Opera House. She said that ghost lights have two main functions. There's a practical reason, to make sure that, if anyone goes into the theatre, they can see where they're going and they don't fall off the front of the stage, but there's another romantic idea about ghost lights, that:
Every theatre has at least one ghost, and when they come out at night we don't want them bumping into scenery or disturbing props.
It is a romantic notion, using ghost lights during this time, but it's also desperately, desperately sad, because arts workers feel so alone at the moment. Ange went on to say:
We decided that the entire House needed something to look forward to. A beacon, if you like. It's about us saying, 'We haven't gone forever, we're coming back and we're going to leave the lights on to show you that.'
Every arts worker will remember that this government ghosted them when it mattered. Every arts worker in this country will remember the amount of times that they asked for help and they were not listened to. Arts workers are really, really struggling, not only because they have lost their jobs, but because they can't do what they love to do right now. So I'm calling on the Morrison government to deliver that rescue package and to help these arts workers in the future. (Time expired)
I know it has been a rough week for Labor members, especially ones from Victoria. But I'm not sure Senator Ciccone had finished drafting the MPI before submitting, given both its lack of specificity and its blatant deception. The Morrison government is proud of what it has delivered and continues to deliver for our nation. Throughout this unprecedented time, our focus is on fighting the virus, delivering the economic lifeline Australians need to get through the course of the virus, reopening our economy and our society with a clear road ahead, building confidence and momentum in our economy and growing our economy for the years ahead. This is a five-year plan that will shape our country for the next 30 years. That means we're getting Australians out from under the doona, delivering jobs, guaranteeing the essential services Australians rely on, getting children back into school, keeping Australians safe and taking care of our economy.
We have the JobMaker plan to get Australia moving, focused on infrastructure and deregulation. This includes almost $72 billion in major infrastructure projects across the country being fast-tracked, slashing approval times and creating 66,000 jobs. And because the government recognises that, in these unprecedented times, some Australians will need to depend on government assistance in the short term, it has already temporarily supercharged the social security safety net, providing additional assistance to Australians affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic. Payments are rolling out for the $70 billion JobKeeper program, including a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy for 3½ million Australians. We have a $150 million domestic violence support package, to help family and domestic violence support services meet the growing demand as a result of the impacts of the coronavirus crisis. We're supporting senior Australians through two new initiatives under a $6 million communications package to prevent loneliness and social isolation. The government has also awarded $1 million in grants to 215 local community organisations to provide at-risk seniors with digital devices, such as mobile phones and laptops. The Morrison government is continuing to take action to help Australians whose mental health and wellbeing is affected by the pandemic by providing an additional $48 million to support the Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan. The list goes on.
We were delivering prior to COVID and we will continue to deliver in the face of this crisis and beyond. We were already seeing increases in job creation and increases in female participation in the workforce and we are looking to the future, ready to build on that. The Morrison government is delivering. We're focused on taking care of people now and setting up our nation for success in the coming decades. We all know the impacts of the coronavirus across the economy and that they have been severe. Businesses and households are facing increased uncertainty, and economic activity has slowed significantly, but this government's economic support package has provided timely support to affected workers, businesses and the broader community and it has kept Australians in work and businesses in business. We have put a floor under the economy and will lay the foundation for a strong economic recovery. The government is focusing on reopening and rebuilding. We need to get businesses back open. We need to enable Australians to go back to work. We need to ensure that consumers and businesses have the confidence to return to normal activities.
With respect to Senator Ciccone and the point that he may have been trying to make: there are some things we are very proud to have failed to deliver, and quite frankly the Australian electorate are pretty relieved that we have. We failed to deliver a retiree tax. We failed to deliver limitations to negative gearing that would have seen increases in rental prices and decimated the property investment market. We failed to deliver a pink batts program that literally lead to tragic deaths. We failed to deliver unwanted and overpriced school halls. We failed to deliver cheques to dead people. We failed to deliver cash in ALDI bags. We failed to deliver cash in folders along with fake ALP membership forms. We failed to deliver a protection racket for paedophiles rather than protect Australian children. And we definitely failed to sell out Australia to the highest bidder. Unlike those opposite, we are not failing the Australian people. We are delivering the economic health and security they need now and into the future. (Time expired)
The Morrison government has failed to deliver; it sure has. It has failed to deliver a society where First Nations people are safe and equal, a society free of racism and discrimination. The Morrison government has failed to deliver justice to our First Australians. That's why tens of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets. Yet what does the Prime Minister focus on when asked about police brutality and black deaths in custody? He praises statues of colonisers, he denies slavery and he condemns protesters. He is definitely silent on the racist policies and institutions that are costing lives and tearing families apart. If only he cared as much about black lives as he does about protecting statues.
Black lives are at risk every day in Australia, and all the media and public attention on police violence hasn't stopped police officers attacking innocent people. On Monday, the South Australian police assaulted and wrongfully arrested Noel Henry. This violence isn't unusual, but this time it was filmed. South Australian police have now started an internal investigation. Police officers investigating other police officers—we know how that will end. Just today we have learnt that a senior counterterrorism police officer in New South Wales delivered a gross and mocking acknowledgement of country at a police Christmas party last year. This speech was reworded to acknowledge 'the Tactical Operations Unit nation' instead of traditional owners. It was stomach churning and disgusting and shows the unbridled disrespect and contempt that police have for First Nations people.
First Nations people in Australia are the most incarcerated group per capita anywhere in the world. We have seen 437 black deaths in custody and not one conviction. Every day, new stories emerge of how differently Indigenous people in this country are treated from everyone else, and this is all happening on their land, on stolen land. It is this original and ongoing sin that has taken root in our unequal power structures, in our racist institutions and in our laws, yet the Morrison government is nowhere. We must stop police brutality and systemic racism against First Nations people and other people of colour. We must make up for our original sin, dismantle systems of oppression and finally see justice for First Nations people. All of us must examine our own settler colonial history, listen to and centre black voices and actively work to decolonise.
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, and I'd like to start by thanking my very good friend, fellow Collingwood supporter and senator for Victoria, Senator Ciccone, for this dorothy dixer. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to highlight the role the Morrison government has had in delivering jobs, guaranteeing essential services, keeping Australians safe and taking care of our country. Let's be frank: for those opposite, the past week must've felt like the red wedding episode of Game of Thrones. I believe Senator Ciccone is probably the only Victorian parliamentarian not checking for reds under the bed at the moment.
For many Victorians, the past year has been a year like no other. From the drought to the bushfires and now the COVID pandemic, the Morrison government has been there every step of the way. It is coming up to a year since I took my seat in this place, so let's go to the highlight reel and discuss what the Morrison government has actually delivered. In my first week in this place, we delivered $158 billion in tax cuts—not a bad start to the year. In response to the drought, the Australian government committed over a billion dollars across the country to support the drought response recovery and preparedness actions.
Then the bushfires came along. Earlier this week I spoke about the significant support that the Morrison government had given to bushfire victims. I was also lucky enough to spend some time with BlazeAid down in Gippsland, where I saw firsthand the damage that the fires had done. It was clear to me that the effort needed to recover from this is going to be enormous and long lasting. To that end, the Morrison government delivered on that as well. Through the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, we've committed $2 billion to the Regional Bushfire Recovery and Development Program. Of that, $1.3 billion has been spent so far. That has looked after 281,000 Australians, who have received direct financial support through disaster recovery allowance payments. Additionally, 23,000 businesses have received direct financial assistance.
Then, while we were working on the bushfire recovery, the coronavirus pandemic hit. The Morrison government initiated one of the most successful responses in the world, saving tens of thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods. The Commonwealth, in supporting people during the coronavirus pandemic, has already committed $260 billion towards mitigating the economic impacts of the coronavirus. In that, there is $70 billion worth of payments rolling out for the JobKeeper program, including the $1,500-per-fortnight wage subsidy keeping 3.5 million Australians in their jobs. For those who lost their job or didn't have one, we've established a new time-limited coronavirus supplement to be paid at the rate of $550 per fortnight on top of the existing $550 per fortnight. To say that there has been a failure in letting people fall through the cracks is just not true.
There have also been payments of up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profits. Additionally, $200 million will go to more than 300 charities to support the community. For mental health, $48 million to support the pandemic response plan was presented to national cabinet last week. In order to get the country moving out of the pandemic crisis, we have committed a further $1.5 billion to immediately start work on small priority projects defined by the states and territories. Of that, $1 billion is going to projects that are now shovel-ready and $500 million is reserved specifically to target road safety works. I should remind the Senate that this builds on around $7.8 billion worth of projects we brought forward since last year.
I'd just like to show that the combined contribution of the states and territories totals only $36 billion. So the federal government, the Morrison government, has delivered eight times what the states have done. In my home state of Victoria, they've only delivered a paltry $5.2 billion in initiatives. So, colleagues, I think it's safe to say the Morrison government has not failed in any way, shape or form but has delivered incredibly well for the country.
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, the Morrison government's failure to deliver. I'll tell you who it hasn't failed to deliver for: vested interests and its big business donors. They're doing quite nicely, thank you very much, out of this government, and, likewise, the government's political party is doing quite nicely out of the donations that come from that large sector. There have been millions of dollars in donations made to the Liberal-National Party since they have been in government—from the big mining companies, from the gambling industry, from property developers, from all sorts of people that want favours and want policy written that favours their bottom line. And, hey presto, we get tax cuts for those large companies and tax cuts for the wealthy. So it sounds like they're delivering quite nicely for their donor mates.
We know that fossil fuel companies give tens of millions of dollars in donations, and this government continues to deliver fossil fuel subsidies, accelerated depreciation that nobody else gets, discounted diesel fuel that nobody else gets. Now they're getting a fast-tracking of environmental laws. And you know what else they're getting? They're getting a commission stacked with representatives from the gas industry that don't have to disclose their conflicts of interest to the public or, in some cases, don't have to disclose them at all, and a commission that's recommending, who would have guessed it, yet more investment in gas infrastructure.
This government is delivering quite nicely for the big polluters, who happen to be big donors to its political party, and it is absolutely negligent in dealing with the climate crisis. The government could be investing in job-rich renewable energy. It could be funding schools and hospitals. But instead it's dishing out tax cuts to the wealthy and to big business and it's paving the way for yet more dirty gas to wreck our land, to wreck our water and to wreck our climate.