Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) and the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston) to questions without notice asked today.
In question time today the responses that we received from these ministers confirmed what we already have come to know about this budget: it's a budget that leaves millions of Australians behind—Australians who, through no fault of their own, have lost their job or are out of work during the deepest and darkest recession we've faced in a lifetime.
In particular, this budget leaves behind Australian women. Women workers have been hit particularly hard by this recession, yet where are the measures put forward to get women back into work? Where is the plan for jobs in industries dominated by women—industries that we know have been hit the hardest by the Morrison recession? The government has put forward nothing—no new initiatives and no policies to deal with the gender pay gap or to tackle the retirement income gap. There is nothing in this budget to rectify the imbalance in women's super and nothing for domestic or family violence services—not one extra dollar for frontline services.
This is the government's eighth budget and their eighth budget deficit. Despite their endless rhetoric of the past decade, that mob over there have never been able to balance the budget. They haven't paid down any debt. In fact, they're clocking up a trillion dollars of debt—a complete repudiation of the decade of nonsense they have pursued as they bleated about debt and deficit. They are the masters of debt and deficit; they own every cent of it. Despite all of the spending, the budget still doesn't do anything near enough to creating jobs. It fails to build this nation, it fails to build our future and it fails to strengthen our nation by spreading equality and opportunity.
Despite what those opposite want the Australian people to believe, this budget quite clearly leaves far too many Australians left out and left behind. We know the government expects a further 160,000 Australians to lose their jobs before Christmas. We know that unemployment is forecast to be far too high for too long. This includes 928,000 Australians over the age of 35 currently on JobSeeker. These people are actively searching for work, and yet this government has chosen to exclude them from being able to access hiring subsidies. The government has chosen quite deliberately to sentence many of these Australians to long-term unemployment and all the terrible consequences we know that brings. To rub salt into the wound, they want to return JobSeeker to just $40 a day. How cruel, how heartless, how economically reckless. Australians need and deserve much better. Over a trillion dollars of debt, a track record of no delivery and no plan for the future—that's what this budget is. That's what this budget is.
This budget has quite clearly overlooked my state of Tasmania, and in particular the north and north-west of Tasmania. In fact, it looks like northern Tasmania has been left off the map. There is nothing in this budget to bust traffic congestion in Launceston, no progress on the Launceston eastern bypass, no progress on the Sideling and a pitiful underfunding of much-needed works on the long-neglected West Tamar Highway. There's nothing for the east coast, nothing for the Tasman Highway from Launceston to Sorell and nothing for the Arthur Highway. Once again, there's nothing in the budget for traffic congestion in Hobart. There is nothing to gear-up Hobart Airport to receive international flights despite the rhetoric from the assistant minister— (Time expired)
I feel a little bit sorry for the Labor Party at the moment. It may be my Catholic guilt coming in here, but I feel a little sorry for them, because they are struggling here. They're struggling to mount a logical and coherent rebuttal or opposition, if you like, to last night's budget. I know it's the job of the opposition to oppose, so I know they naturally feel this morning that, whatever was announced last night, they are duty-bound to take an opposition viewpoint. But it's pretty hard, as I think we've just seen. It's pretty difficult. This is a moment when I think Australians want to see us come together and support the country and the nation in its recovery from what has been probably a once-in-a-century upheaval to the global economy. It would be, I think, a little more productive and constructive if the Labor Party came into this place and put forward some productive and constructive ideas about how we can recover from what has been the worst recession in our nation's history rather than simply oppose everything that has been put forward.
As I said, there are errors right through the Labor Party's response to the budget today. The very starting point of their response is clearly incorrect. We've seen the Labor Party try to get some kind of traction out of this term 'the Morrison recession'. For a political slogan to work, it has to have some kernel of truth, some basis in fact. Does anyone think that the recession that we are experiencing right now is a result, directly, of the actions of this government? That is absolutely absurd. When every country in the world effectively—certainly in the Western world—has faced record-breaking reductions in economic output, it is not something that is alone to the Australian government. In fact, if you were to put up us against each other, the economic impact here has been much, much lower. We have the fortunate status of being an island and being able to lock up our borders—we accept that—but the economic reduction in output here has been about seven per cent, whereas that of our friends across the ditch has been well over 10 per cent, that of the UK has been 20 per cent and that of most countries in Europe has been well into double digits. So it's not something that's been directly caused by this government.
There are errors in the Labor Party response. I heard Senator Brown say that there's no new money for women or domestic violence. That's absolutely incorrect. I don't have time now to go through all of the initiatives for women in this budget, but, to home in on the point about domestic violence, there is money put forward in this budget to protect against domestic violence. There is more funding for the Help is Here advertising campaign, especially over Christmas this year, when we know people will face challenges; $4.8 million to give continued effect to the ban on direct cross-examinations; and $1.8 million towards criminalising breaches of Family Court orders. There's also $10.2 million for the Family and Federal Circuit courts to ensure the safety of vulnerable litigants and to manage the sharp increase in urgent applications we've seen through COVID. Those measures build on the $150 million the government has already put aside across the past two years to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence from the fallout from COVID-19. Millions of dollars has been put aside by the government during this pandemic to help those experiencing domestic violence, and more funding was provided last night as well.
There's a logical incoherence to the Labor Party's response. They are on the one hand criticising the government for increasing debt, which has been the necessary consequence of the economic fallout, and, on the other hand, saying JobKeeper and JobSeeker—JobSeeker particularly, as we just heard from Senator Brown—have to stay higher for longer than they are. You can't have it both ways. If you're going to spend more, you're going to increase debt. The desperate thing now is to get Australians back to work. That's why we're offering hiring incentives for apprentices and other workers. We have to get people back to work. We cannot keep paying people to sit on the couch right now, especially when many businesses I go to are desperate for workers. I was at a citrus farm in Emerald last week. They are ripping up trees right now because they cannot find workers. We've got to get people back to work so we can stop the economic destruction of our country.
Finally, I don't want to provide advice to the Labor Party, but, as I said earlier, it would be much better and more constructive if we worked together now to recover this nation, just as last night's budget is doing.
It is pretty remarkable to get a lesson in scare campaigns from Senator Canavan. He is the master of those, so for him to come into this chamber and deliver a lesson to us on scare campaigns is completely unbelievable. I certainly know that the Productivity Commission must hang their heads in shame when they think about his former tenure there.
It is pretty remarkable to hear these conservative senators on the other side come in here and defend the trillion-dollar debt that this government has got itself into. It is pretty remarkable that they could plunge us into this trillion-dollar debt and leave so many people suffering as a result of the long-term damage of the Morrison recession that we are dealing with. It is important to remember that the economy was already pretty weak before we found ourselves dealing with the COVID recession that the Morrison government has overseen.
I'll get to the specifics of what we went through in question time today, because the questions we put to the government and the issues we highlighted are really important. I want to highlight also the lack of imagination and vision in the budget that was delivered last night. This is a government so small in vision that, as we confront this challenge with an economy that was already weak, it offers little hope about what a better future looks like. For those Australians who are doing it tough and have suffered as a consequence of COVID, the government last night offered nothing to look forward to over the next 18 months to two years as, hopefully, Australia and the world recover. There's no expectation from Australians that we can get through this stronger. It's almost as if the government said to those people: 'We're going to continue to bottom along here. We'll hit the bottom of the ocean, and then one day, hopefully, we'll emerge from this.' But it isn't going to be so that people can look forward to something better or that people are going to have the opportunity to retrain or get into different forms of work. It is going to be a very bleak future for those people who have been impacted.
That is where we directed our questions in question time today. We focused on the trillion-dollar debt that leaves many Australians behind. All the announcements, all the spending and they're still expecting to add 160,000 people to the jobless queue by Christmas. If you listen to the rhetoric from those opposite and what they've been announcing in recent times, it is still going to get harder for a lot of people between now and Christmas, which is only a few months away. They're racking up a trillion dollars in debt, but unemployment is going to be too high for too long, and many Australian families will suffer as a result.
We put a question by Senator Wong to the government on those people over 35 who are looking for work—all 928,000 of them. I know that there are so many of them in regional Queensland. I think of places like Hervey Bay and Maryborough, which have already had high unemployment over the last couple of years. A number of people in those areas will be impacted by this. They are going to be excluded by the hiring incentives. That will have a very significant impact in regional Queensland and make it much harder for these regional economies to recover, because of decisions by the government. They offer no delivery. We know that. They offer no plan for the future for these people to have something to look forward to, and the decisions taken by this government in the budget mean that the recession will last longer, will be deeper and more people will be impacted than is necessary.
They offer no plan to lift the permanent rate of JobSeeker from $40 a day. Imagine the anxiety from those people out there who are on this rate now trying to plan for what their future looks like. The government offered them nothing last night. We know about the plague of insecure work and the damage that it has done, let alone the role it's played in the outbreaks in Victoria, and the government offered nothing to tackle insecure work. The government did nothing to improve access to child care, which will be so important for so many families and parents who want to get back into the workforce; and nothing to tackle something that the Labor Party has been campaigning on strongly now for months, which is social housing. It was such a great opportunity to provide some long-term vision and some long-term good out of this challenge. They could have provided employment for people and given them something to look forward to—an opportunity to get into a secure house—and the government, again, provided nothing for them. They give nothing to Australians that will give them any confidence that their future is going to be better once Australia emerges from this crisis. (Time expired)
I, like Senator Canavan, am Catholic, but I don't share any of his Catholic guilt when I look across at the squirming of some of our Labor senators, whether it's Senator Chisholm or Senator Brown, as they seek to defend the absurd and ludicrous and delusional lines that are being fed to them by the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, and the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who had quite the cracking performance on Insiders, it must be said, which I'll come to. They've been fed these lines, and the lines are effectively this—and we heard both of them from the two Labor senators' contributions. The first line is that we're in a recession and it's all the government's fault and there isn't this global crisis that's occurring that's seen an economic hit that is 45 times the size of the global financial crisis. The first part of their delusional message which they're being asked to trot out is: 'Nothing to see here. There's no crisis. This is the Morrison recession.' This is what Jim Chalmers was saying on Insiderson the weekend,but I'll come back to that.
They also talk about debt. They want to talk about debt because (1) they want people to pretend there's nothing going on here and there's no reason why the government has been forced into this position, and (2) they also have this absurd double standard where they come in here and they tell us we're not spending enough on JobSeeker, we're not spending enough on JobKeeper, on all of these programs they want us to spend more on, yet they then complain about the debt. You can't have it both ways. David Speers, to his credit, put this to the Shadow Treasurer on Sunday. He said:
… here, I mean you have been critical about too much debt being racked up and yet at the same time you want the government to spend more on JobKeeper as you've pointed out, JobSeeker - aged care, social housing, universities, child care. Can you just clear up, do you want the government to spend more or less?
That's a very good question for the Labor Party as they flail around looking for a rationale for their being, as they flail around looking for a critique of this budget.
Those opposite can't pretend we don't have this global crisis, which is 45 times the economic hit of the global financial crisis. They can't pretend we haven't seen this downturn right around the world. The fact is that, relatively speaking, as difficult as it has been, Australia has done much better than most. That's something we can be proud of, whilst all the while saying these are tough times and they take extraordinary measures to respond to them. Those opposite can't come in here and say 'spend more, spend more, spend more' and then complain about the fact there is more debt. That's going to happen, unless Labor's plan is to rapidly ramp up taxes, as they've done in the past and as they took to the last election. That was the plan. Jim Chalmers was on Insiders and again failed to distance himself from the negative gearing policy and the franking credits policy, and that still remains Labor's policy. Is that the way those opposite are going to lower debt? Will it be by taxing retirees? Will it be by taxing homeowners and renters, as they took to the last election, or are they going to get real and realise we're dealing with a significant crisis?
In this budget, the government has sought to respond to the circumstances that we find ourselves in, with a focus on getting Australians back into jobs. I, for one, am very proud and I know my constituents are very happy about the tax cuts coming their way: for average-income earners, around $2,500 per person and around $5,000 per household. Five thousand dollars per household is $100 per week. Some people said it won't all be spent. It may not all be spent, but a significant amount of it will be spent. Some of it will be saved, and that will support households as well, as they make their decisions going forward—as they make the decision to pay off their mortgage.
I'm really proud the government has been able to deliver local infrastructure projects, and I point here in the ACT to our massive injection to expand the Tuggeranong Parkway, the Molonglo River bridge and the Monaro Highway. These are important projects, and we're seeing them right around the country delivered by this government. When it comes to this budget, we are absolutely, with a laser-like focus, focused on getting young people back into work. That's why giving credit to employers who hire young people is so critical. We don't want to see a generation lost, as we saw under Labor's recession in the early nineties. We're going to continue to do this job. This is a budget that is very, very important— (Time expired)
It must be so deflating to come in here one day after the budget, having to give a five-minute speech about what your government is delivering and actually only being able to deliver 60 seconds of things that the government is doing to get us out of the worst economic recession in a century. I know Jim Chalmers, the shadow Treasurer, came to Cairns last week and heard firsthand about how this economic crisis is impacting Cairns and the Far North Queensland region. That was a really important visit, because we know this government has left Far North Queensland behind. This budget, delivered yesterday, includes no new projects for Cairns and no extra funding for social housing in Far North Queensland. It is one of the areas hit first and worst by this economic recession, and yet not a single project in Cairns was announced. There were just more re-announcements and more press releases—re-announced and redrafted—but not a single project for Cairns. That is at the same time that the government is ripping $29 million per fortnight out of the local economy in Far North Queensland by cutting JobKeeper.
What the budget failed to do yesterday is replace that funding and replace those jobs. We know jobs will be lost in Cairns and in other places in Far North Queensland because of this economic recession. The task for the government last night was to explain to people living in regional Queensland how they were going to replace JobKeeper funding with jobs, and they failed to do that—not a single project for Cairns. Mackay and the Whitsundays missed out as well. They missed out on the $62.8 million local jobs task force which covers Cairns and Townsville. The Whitsundays is one of the areas hardest hit by the economic crisis, yet it's been completely left out of the local jobs task force. The federal government, the Morrison government, is leaving regional Queensland behind during this economic recession.
But they're not the only people the government decided to leave behind last night. When it comes to the Women's Economic Security Package, there's very little new funding for women and no funding certainty for the things that we really need to see in the future to secure women's economic certainty. There's no new funding for child care, to bring down the cost of living, and no plan or strategy for how we're going to improve childcare costs over the short term and the long term as well. There was a reannouncement of an announcement on domestic and family violence—funding that had already been announced was announced again. Do they think women won't notice, that we don't know how to read the budget papers and won't figure out that this is something they announced in March? There are zero dollars of new funding under that package. Women over 35 will miss out on the wage subsidy scheme, so older women will also miss out through this budget. And on paid parental leave changes that will make sure women who lose their job will still be eligible for PPL—which the government actually did include in the budget last night—they want a pat on the back for that measure. It is the least that they could do for women who have lost their job. I say to those opposite: we know that more women have lost their jobs during this economic crisis, and yet you want a pat on the back because women who are pregnant now are eligible for PPL? That is the least that you could do.
Of the top three things you've listed under the economic recovery plan for women—I've got it here—the first is the JobKeeper payment. Well, you've cut that and you're going to cut it again, so there goes that idea. Then you've got the JobMaker hiring credit. Well, that doesn't include women over 35, so we'll just forget about them. The next thing is tax relief. Okay, but everyone's getting that. That's not really just for women, is it? The economic response to women losing their jobs is for you— (Time expired)
Question agreed to.
That the Senate take note of the response given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the budget.
I asked the Minister for Finance about facets of the budget. I asked why millionaires are going to do better out of this government's budget than the million unemployed. I asked about their cooked gas-led recovery and the fact that some of their donors are now getting taxpayer handouts in this budget, yet there is a pittance for renewable energy. And then I asked why there is not a single cent for frontline domestic violence services in this, of all years, when we have seen what were already epidemic rates of domestic violence further increase. Unfortunately, Minister Cormann, true to form, rejected the premise of the question. I don't know why the government think that line is a really good one for them, because frankly it's just a national eye-roll every time they trot it out.
They rejected the premise that millionaires will do better out of these tax cuts than ordinary Australians. Most ordinary Australians, who earn less than $90,000 a year, got a one-off injection through the low- and middle-income tax offset, which expires after one year. Those tax cuts that will disproportionately benefit the already well-off—and twice as many men as women, I might add—and will last forever, but the low- and middle-income tax offset lasts just one year. It's a temporary boost. They want to try and claim some kind of equity here. Well, they're not fooling anybody.
Now to the gas-led recovery. This flies in the face of climate science and it flies in the face of economics. I think the minister trotted out that he thought more gas would somehow stimulate manufacturing, when we know that the sky-high gas prices, thanks to all the gas we've been exporting as we cook the climate, have made it harder for onshore manufacturing. So I genuinely don't understand how he can possibly have a different interpretation.
What was announced last night is public money to open up five new gas basins, two of which are in Queensland: the Galilee Basin and the North Bowen. There's some pretty good-quality farmland in those areas, and this government wants to use your money to give big multinational gas corporations a hand, a tax break, to rip out that fossil fuel in a way that will endanger the groundwater, wreck the on-surface operations of anyone actually using that land—they probably don't care whether they have traditional owner consent or not—and leak tonnes and tonnes of methane to the atmosphere. This is the so-called gas-led recovery.
Instead, we could have seen genuine investment in clean renewable energy that creates more jobs. This government has gone into the biggest debt ever, but it's giving this money to millionaires, big corporates and big polluters. You had a chance to fix the future and bring us back with a green-job-led recovery where we invest in climate action and services—hospitals, schools and other things that people rely on and, frankly, deserve. But no. It's just yet more money for big corporates and for millionaires—$99 billion in tax cuts and corporate subsidies. What an absolute joke! I guess that's why this cosy relationship between the donors and the politicians continues to astound and aggravate every single ordinary Australian I speak to about it.
The last aspect I asked about was why women are such an afterthought for this government. We know they don't have many women on their cabinet. We know they don't have a women's budget impact statement. They don't have a gender lens. Tony Abbott got rid of that in 2014, and they've consistently refused to bring it back. Last night they released a two-page women's economic statement with the budget, and then a few hours later they hastily released a slightly longer and very glossy paper that, frankly, didn't say much more and that constituted 0.035 per cent of the budget spend. I'm afraid we are more than 50 per cent of the population, folks. We deserve more than 0.035 per cent of the budget. As I said before, not a single cent of that pitifully small amount of money was for frontline domestic violence services. They're trying to rely on some earlier announcements which were welcome but very, very small. The women's safety sector asked for $12 billion over 12 years. They want $1 billion a year to keep women and children safe. What did they get? A big fat zero. I don't know what more we have to do to get this government to keep women and children safe and to do the right thing. How many more women are going to have to die for us to get proper funding?
Question agreed to.