Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Birmingham. I refer to page 37 of Budget Paper No. 1. Can the minister confirm that, despite spending of almost $100 billion and the racking up of a record $100 trillion in debt, the wage price index and consumer price index forecasts on that page show a cut to real wages?
I thank Senator Wong for her question. Indeed, this is a budget where it's been clear for some time in relation to the information provided by the Reserve Bank and Treasury in their analysis about what it would take to see pressure in relation to real wages growth—they've updated—
It certainly wouldn't give you a stronger economy. It certainly would give you, though, probably, higher taxes.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Sorry; I was just responding to the interjection, Senator Wong.
The point of order is direct relevance. I asked a very specific question about a table in the budget papers which demonstrates that, despite them racking up a trillion dollars in debt, real wages go backwards, and I've asked the minister to confirm that.
Interjections are always disorderly. It helps if ministers are not interjected upon so that they are not tempted to respond to them. I remind the minister of the question. I urge senators to remain silent and allow the minister to answer it.
Thanks, Mr President. Before I was interrupted by those opposite, I was pointing out that the Reserve Bank and the Treasury had indeed provided updated information in relation to the NAIRU, the effective rate of full employment at which you expect to see wages pressure increase in the economy. The updates that they released and provided indicated that it was necessary to get unemployment sustainably below five per cent—indeed, closer to 4½ per cent—to see that type of pressure build, particularly in what is the low-interest-rate, low-inflation environment that we face at present.
What the government have outlined in our economic plan, in our budget, is a very clear plan to deliver stronger employment growth that achieves lower unemployment outcomes—that meets those types of provisions and expectations that the Reserve Bank and the Treasury have outlined to drive unemployment below five per cent and to achieve that in sustainable terms. That's something that hasn't been achieved in this country for a very long time, but we are well placed to achieve that now.
Senator Wong, I've allowed you to restate part of the question. I'm reluctant to get so—
Senator Wong interjecting—
I'm reluctant to get so specific in determining direct relevance that a minister, when asked a question of this nature, cannot be talking about employment and its impact upon the economy. I think the minister, with respect, is being directly relevant. I can't instruct him how to answer a question.
Thanks, Mr President. As I was outlining, we're following not the views of the Labor Party there but, indeed, the advice of economic experts at the Reserve Bank and the Treasury about how best to achieve jobs growth that will then lead to the unemployment outcomes that can drive wages growth. (Time expired)
We have been seeing real wages growth. Let's not accept the premise of that question, which was that somehow wages have not been growing. They've been growing. They've been growing, of course, in a record-low-inflation environment, a record-low-interest-rate environment.
We also have seen Australians, though, live through a global pandemic, live through the biggest disruption to the global economy since World War II. Fortunately for Australians—unlike those across much of the rest of the world—they've enjoyed policy settings and successes, right across this country, that have kept their jobs safe and secure, that have actually achieved an outcome of seeing more Australians in work today than was the case when we went into the pandemic. Twelve months ago nobody would have thought that was an achievable outcome—to have more Australians in work today than at the time the nation was slipping into recession. But there is absolutely still more to be done, and that's what our budget plans outline—to keep growing jobs, which we can— (Time expired)
We're absolutely proud, as a government, to have delivered successive budgets that have kept Australians safe and secure. Our budgets, our plans and our policies have saved the jobs of Australians, have saved businesses across Australia, have created an environment in which Australians enjoy far greater economic security than nearly anywhere else around the world. I know those opposite want to pretend that we live in some sort of alternate reality world, but you need only to go and look. Go and look at the European Union and see a double-dip recession occurring in that part of the world. Go and look elsewhere around the world and try to find another country, another developed economy, where jobs have recovered to the extent to which they have in Australia. Go and find another country where businesses have survived at the rates they have in Australia. We have much to be proud of in this country. Our government won't let those opposite talk it down. We are determined to keep backing Australian businesses to drive the jobs growth for all Australians.
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister inform the Senate how the Morrison government's 2021-22 budget sets out a comprehensive plan to secure Australia's economic recovery and build for the future?
Last night we did deliver a budget that sets out the next stages in Australia's recovery plan, the next stages in our plan to make sure we keep Australians safe—safe from the threats of COVID-19 to their health, safe from the threats of COVID-19 to their jobs and their economic security. Equally, it's a plan that lays out how we will continue to grow the economy over the long term and drive further economic growth, productivity growth and jobs creation for Australians and, of course, how we will deliver on our promises to fund the essential services that Australians rely on.
Even in the face of a pandemic that has knocked our economy and parts of the world for six, we're seeing remarkable resilience across Australia. We're seeing consumer sentiment at its highest in 11 years and business conditions reaching record highs—all of that after the first recession that Australia had faced in 30 years, caused by the COVID pandemic. Most countries are simply still struggling to get back to the starting points they had at the pandemic, but we've managed to get Australia back to the point of having more people in work than had been the case. That gives us the opportunity to deliver on our commitments to invest in essential services: $18 billion for aged-care services, more than $2 billion for mental health services and over $13 billion honouring our promises to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
This budget delivers key measures that will turbocharge the economy further, continue to drive economic growth and investment and create jobs into the future, including extra tax relief for low- and middle-income earners as part of, of course, our sweeping tax reforms delivering lower income tax across the board. There is the extension of the temporary full expensing measures to make sure we get businesses going, new apprentice places—100,000 of them being supported by additional government support programs—and $110 billion of infrastructure to build the country stronger.
Our measures will help to create some 250,000 further jobs over the next two years. Having taken employment in Australia to a record level, now we're going to see, under these budget settings, a further 250,000 additional jobs created. Since the last budget, almost half a million jobs have already been created, and this will see jobs growth of 750,000 across Australia. We're investing a record $6.4 billion this year in skills and training support to make sure that Australians get the skills they need to secure the jobs of the future. We're doubling our commitment to the JobTrainer fund, supporting more than 450,000 new training places to upskill jobseekers and young people, and, importantly, there's an additional $2.7 billion to extend the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program. Boosting apprenticeships will support more than 170,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships across Australia.
The Liberal and National parties will always be the parties of lower taxes—lower taxes that we are delivering through our income tax cuts, lower taxes that we are delivering through an extension of the low- and middle-income tax offset for another year, supporting 720,000 hardworking individuals across my own state of South Australia and 10 million across Australia altogether. We're the party that's making sure we back Australian business to bring forward their investment decisions through the full expensing measures and the temporary loss carry-back measures that are in place. By our bringing forward those expenses and those investment decisions, Australian businesses will be creating more jobs. Australian businesses will be investing in their productivity and their competitiveness, which will make sure—
Senator Ayres interjecting—
And it's been working, Senator Ayres! I'm happy to say Australian businesses have been doing that, which is why we've extended this program. We've extended it because it's helping to deliver the jobs for Australians. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister confirm that last night's budget reveals that gross debt will reach $1.2 trillion in 2024-25? Can the minister confirm that he will be responsible for the highest level of debt in Australia's history?
Indeed, the debt figures are published transparently in the budget papers. The debt figures are there for all to see. Importantly, under this budget net debt across each of the 10 years of the medium term comes in lower than had been forecast in last year's budget. What we're able to deliver across this budget is investment in essential services for Australians whilst ensuring that we keep debt at levels below what had been forecast in last year's budget. That's a dividend from sound economic management. That's a dividend from being able to create more jobs across the Australian economy. That is a dividend from having created the right environment—through tax incentives, through incentives for Australian business, through incentives for Australian households and through sound management—to be able to see recovery across our economy.
Senator Wong interjecting—
I hear Senator Wong talking about the iron ore price. Of course this budget, like all our preceding coalition budgets, takes a conservative approach in relation to things like assumptions around the iron ore price. Once again—if Senator Wong hadn't realised—in the budget we project iron ore prices declining to $55 per tonne. It's a conservative approach to give confidence to the budget papers.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator Wong wants to talk to me about debt now. I was here but I'm not sure where Senator Wong was last March when everybody over there was saying we should extend the JobKeeper program or the sky was going to fall in. This lot were calling for more spending just a few months ago. When we showed the judgement and the strength to phase out that program, we were proven right. (Time expired)
Honourable senators interjecting—
Over the forward estimates, gross debt is expected to reach a within-year peak of $1.220 billion or 50.9 per cent—
Opposition senators: Trillion!
Yes, $1.22 trillion or 50.9 per cent of GDP in April 2025. Gross debt, as the budget papers make very clear, is expected to stabilise in the medium term at around 51 per cent of GDP, compared to around 55 per cent in last year's budget—
A point of order on direct relevance: we didn't ask for the percentage; we asked for the dollar figure for peak gross debt. I know he's having trouble saying the word 'trillion', but I've asked what the dollar figure is, not the percentage.
I've allowed you to restate the question, Senator Gallagher. I was listening carefully to the minister's answer and, despite interjections, I think I heard about half of it. I've allowed you to remind him of the question. Senator Wong, before you get to your feet, I was struggling to hear the minister and all the answer; there was so much noise in the chamber. I've allowed Senator Gallagher to remind the minister of the question. The minister, in my view, from what I heard, was answering it. I'm not going to instruct him how to answer a question, but I am going to listen carefully to what he says. And I'll ask senators to remain silent so that I may rule if people raise subsequent points of order. In my view, from what I heard, he was being directly relevant. Senator Birmingham.
The minister, I think, spoke for seven seconds then. It was a factual question; it does not allow—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order on my right! Order on my left! The first principle I have is that I cannot instruct the minister how to answer a question. The second principle is that this was a straight, factual question, so it does not allow for commentary, and I do not believe the minister was providing any commentary. I believe he was addressing the issue of gross debt. I am reluctant to instruct a minister, if they are being very specific to the question in my view, to get to the point of how to answer a question. I cannot instruct a minister to provide a particular number, fact, statement or observation to the chamber. There is an opportunity to debate the merit of answers afterwards. I believe the minister was constraining himself to the directly relevant issue raised by the question. I can't instruct him any further than that. Senator Birmingham.
As I was indicating before, the opposition, in the first question that they asked today, referenced $1.7 trillion in relation to gross debt figures. What we see in relation to the medium-term projections is that gross debt is projected to stabilise at lower— (Time expired)
In the first question we used the figure $1.2 trillion, so I'm not quite sure where $1.7 trillion comes from. The supplementary question is: can the minister confirm if Senator Canavan is correct when he says, 'We have a higher debt to GDP than we have ever had since the end of World War II'? Is Senator Canavan correct?
Indeed, we do face, globally, the biggest economic disruption since World War II. So it is not surprising that, in responding to the first global pandemic in a century, in responding to the biggest economic disruption to the world since World War II, in responding through programs like JobKeeper—which those opposite argued should have been bigger and lasted for longer, yet now they come in here with great hypocrisy and seek to criticise the level of debt—we would face those circumstances.
I am addressing specifically the question that was asked and the quote that was there. It is clear that, across the world, there's been a significant increase in government debt. Australia has now managed to deliver a budget that sees a reduction in what was projected as government debt than was expected last year. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister for Women's Economic Security, Senator Hume: Can the minister outline to the Senate how the Morrison government's 2021-22 budget is securing Australia's recovery by supporting women to further participate in the workforce?
I thank Senator Hughes for her question and for her enduring commitment to women's economic security. The Morrison government is proud to be making a record investment of $1.9 billion towards the economic security of Australia's women in this year's budget. This is part of a broader $3.4 billion package of targeted measures that will also improve women's safety and their health and wellbeing. Our measures have been designed to give more women more choices and more chances to participate in the workforce and secure their economic security, while they are working and also into retirement. We know that a comprehensive system of child care is the key to helping women return to the workforce and participate in the workforce, which is one of the best ways to ensure that women are economically secure. When you remove barriers to women's workforce participation, all Australians reap the benefits.
It's estimated that increasing women's workforce participation by just five per cent will increase Australia's real GDP by $20 billion over five years, and all Australians will benefit from a more prosperous Australia. It's not just women with children who benefit. Around two-thirds of women in the workforce with children under two use grandparents for informal support, and around a third of women use grandparents as their only support. By making child care more affordable and more accessible, we're also freeing up older women to return to the workforce to increase their lifetime earnings and to secure their economic future.
Women's workforce participation hit a record high of 61.8 per cent in March, but we know that it can go further. That's why we're investing an additional $1.7 billion in child care, building on the $10.3 billion that we already provide every year. We're removing the childcare subsidy's annual cap, with increased childcare subsidies available to two or more children, benefitting around 250,000 families.
The Morrison government is acutely aware of the unique needs of Indigenous women. That's why this women's budget statement provides $77.4 million in dedicated funding to improve Indigenous women's economic security. We've committed $13.9 million over four years to establish an early-stage social enterprise foundation. This foundation will provide capacity-building and financial support dedicated to social enterprises that are on the ground in Indigenous communities right now. We know that partnering with these organisations is one of the very best ways that we can improve the economic security of Indigenous women and support them into work opportunities, because of the unique insights that grassroots organisations can provide. Additional funding of $63.5 million over four years will support additional places for Indigenous girls' academies, which support young Indigenous women into their studies, increase their year 12 attainment, and provide— (Time expired)
The Morrison government knows that women's economic security in their retirement is particularly important. We're focused on improving the retirement outcomes for women by increasing superannuation coverage and making our system fairer. By removing the $450-per-month threshold for superannuation eligibility imposed by the Labor Party when superannuation began in 1992, we are ensuring that women who are working part time or in multiple jobs are accruing superannuation for their future.
We're also extending access to the downsizer contribution and removing the work test to improve superannuation's flexibility. We know that more women than men make voluntary contributions to their superannuation accounts at all stages of their lives. This is the key element to the retirement income system working better for women. This government's reforms remove barriers to the superannuation system and facilitate those voluntary contributions so that all women can bolster their own super on their own terms when they're able to do so. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Minister, the two great economic challenges of our times are the breakdown of our climate and growing wealth inequality. In your government's budget, these great challenges have been either left unaddressed or deliberately made worse. Knowing that climate change will make fires, droughts and floods more frequent and more intense, how can you possibly justify the tens of billions of dollars of public subsidies your government is handing over to billionaires and big fossil fuel corporations to continue polluting our atmosphere with carbon?
I thank Senator McKim for his question. Like those opposite, he must have missed the pandemic that seems to have had a rather profound impact in relation to economic security right across the world. Senator McKim, I would contest the fact that there isn't something else right here, right now that is, indeed, creating challenges for economies, including Australia's, around the world. This budget is framed very much, first and foremost, on the premise of continuing to keep Australians safe and secure in the management of the pandemic and, of course, in relation to their job security as well.
I would also suggest that Senator McKim, when he raises climate change, may wish to look a little more thoroughly through the budget papers in terms of the measures that are there to ensure we address emissions reduction. There is $1.2 billion in this year's budget to establish Australia at the forefront of low-emissions technology, innovation and commercialisation, particularly pursuing international partnerships, a high-integrity carbon offset scheme in our Indo-Pacific region and support for four additional clean hydrogen export hubs, bringing our support there to a total of five. There is also support for Australia's hydrogen industry overall, support for the development of carbon capture technologies and hubs and support for the national soil carbon innovation challenge.
Let me also address Senator McKim's question about inequality. The greatest path to be able to achieve greater equality is by creating more jobs across our economy, by getting workforce participation to its highest possible levels and by achieving the maximum in terms of workplace participation. And that's what our government has proudly achieved, being able to drive pre-pandemic workforce participation to record highs and now seeing record numbers of Australians in jobs, which is the fastest way to address— (Time expired)
There was no mention of the $51 billion of public subsidies to fossil fuel in this budget. Minister, why are you continuing to hand out billions of dollars to the big corporations and billionaires to allow the continued destruction of our environment? Why does your government's budget continue to favour coal, gas and oil over renewable energy? And how can you possibly justify handing billionaire Andrew Forrest tens of millions of dollars of public subsidies for new gas projects during a climate emergency?
It sounds to me, if I take a wild guess at what Senator McKim is conflating into what he's calling 'subsidies', that Senator McKim is wanting us to ensure that Australian farmers are paying higher taxes in relation to the fuels they use. I can tell Senator McKim, that's not something that a coalition government will do. A coalition government will not be jacking up the taxes that Australian farmers pay in relation to their fuels. We will not be rendering our resources industry less competitive than the rest of the world. These are important parts of our current economic architecture and our future economic architecture as well: providing jobs, providing more opportunities for Australians now and into the future, driving our export earnings potential. We're doing that in an environment where we are also investing in new technology opportunities. We have seen phenomenal growth in relation to the renewable energy sector, and you can see by our measures in this budget that we're investing in the next wave of emissions-reducing technologies too. (Time expired)
Still no mention of the $51 billion of fossil fuel subsidies in this budget. Minister, according to the budget projections, real wages will go backwards over the next two years. With housing affordability once again getting worse, why has your budget ignored social housing yet again? Why are you instead trying to trap single parents into subprime mortgages? Is this budget an admission that the government wants to keep wages low and drive house prices even higher?
Let me completely refute the suggestion by Senator McKim that somehow our government is trying to 'trap single parents into subprime mortgages'. What our government is proudly trying to do is give single parents a greater opportunity of homeownership. That is a proud Liberal value. That is something that has stretched through the Liberal and National parties throughout the history of our parties—to help encourage homeownership in Australia. In this budget, we are proud to try to make it easier for young Australians to buy their own home, to make it easier for single parents to be able to buy their own home, to make more available more family homes by encouraging older Australians to downsize at the right stage in their life to be able to do so. Far from entrapment, these are opportunities that we are creating for greater financial sustainability for Australian families. (Time expired)
My question is for the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. Minister, what is the Morrison government doing to secure Australia's recovery by skilling Australians for jobs today and into the future through its 2021-22 budget?
I thank Senator Antic for his question. The budget that was handed down last night sets out the next stage for the Morrison government's economic plan to get Australia and Australians through COVID-19. One of the measures that we are investing in is in terms of businesses being able to take on further apprentices and trainees. We brought down a budget that backs people who want to become an apprentice or trainee but also provides that mechanism for a business to actually take them on. On this side of the chamber, on the government's side, we know that governments themselves don't create jobs; we put in place policy frameworks. The policy framework that the Morrison government puts in place enables businesses out there to prosper, grow and, in this case, create opportunities for apprenticeships and traineeships for more Australians.
What we saw in last night's budget was the government committing to extending the boosting apprenticeship commencements wage subsidy with an additional $1.5 billion. Colleagues, we are now extending out this incredibly successful program to 31 March 2022. Under this program, to date 140,000 Australians have been able to enter an apprenticeship or traineeship; 140,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships have been created since this program was created. With the further funding that we announced last night in the budget, an additional $1.5 billion, this program will now deliver approximately an additional 170,000 apprentices. That is because the Morrison government understands that you need to put in place that pipeline of skilled workers and provide businesses and Australians with the opportunity to bring on and to undertake apprenticeships.
The Morrison government is focused on seeing more women go into apprenticeships and trades. Why? Because we know that once you have actually undertaken an apprenticeship or traineeship, you have a skill for life. What we saw with last night's budget was our continued commitment to seeing more women take up an apprenticeship in non-traditional trades, with training support provided for 5,000 places. The Morrison government is also guaranteeing in-training support for women who take up apprenticeships in industries such as building and construction. As the former skills minister, I've been passionate about seeing more women pursue careers in non-traditional trades such as working with the building and construction industry and, in particular, with great women leaders in the building and construction industry—for example, Denita Wawn, who leads the Master Builders association.
What we're seeing with the digital economy is that it is creating new opportunities for Australians to both upskill and reskill into roles that, say, two decades ago, 20 years ago, did not actually exist or were in their infancy. That is why last night what you saw in the budget was an investment of around $10.7 million to trial new digital skills cadetships. This is all about helping Australians to develop high-level digital skills in fields such as cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, data analytics, game design and animation. This investment will provide four industry-led pilots to develop new and innovative ways to increase the number of Australians with high-level digital skills, through cadetships. The Morrison government understand the value of apprenticeships, the value of traineeships, and the value of creating opportunities for women to enter into non-traditional trades. We were backing in those commitments in the budget. (Time expired)