Thursday, 13 May 2021
At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:
That the Senate notes that the 2021-22 Budget:
(a) is yet another marketing exercise that cannot re-brand the mismanagement and missed opportunities that define eight long years of this Liberal-National Government;
(b) should not be measured just on its headline-seeking announcements, but on whether the Morrison Government delivers on them;
(c) is a shameless political fix, rather than the genuine reform needed to make Australia's economy stronger, broader and more sustainable;
(d) risks Australia's recovery rather than securing it;
(e) fails to outline a plan to vaccinate Australians and provide adequate quarantine despite both being critical elements of the nation's economic recovery;
(f) reveals real wages will go backwards, despite the Morrison Government spending almost $100 billion and racking up a record $1 trillion in debt;
(g) does not contain a credible plan to create secure jobs, despite the Morrison Government having overseen record low wages growth and chronically high underemployment for eight long years;
(h) actually cuts infrastructure funding by $3.3 billion after eight long years of the Morrison Government overpromising and underdelivering; and
(i) is a cynical attempt by the Morrison Government to pretend it cares about the issues and Australians it has ignored in the last seven.
What a week it's been—a budget handed down by Mr Frydenberg that really has one singular achievement, and it's a curious achievement indeed. How is it that a party that came to government essentially on a platform of denigrating and criticising the Rudd government's approach to the greatest financial crisis that the globe has ever seen, campaigning against what they said was debt and deficit as far as the eye could see, can, just a few years later, in government, spend hundreds of billions of dollars bringing the country into a place where our fiscal position really is that we are $1 trillion in debt, with nothing to show for it?
How is such a thing possible? How is it possible to put the country into a position where we have a $1 trillion debt, but wages are going to fall? How is it possible that hundreds of billions of dollars of public money can be spent—$1 trillion in debt—but infrastructure spending is cut? How is it possible to spend $1 trillion of public money—hundreds of billions of dollars this year—and have no big reform? There's nothing in the budget to improve national productivity; there's nothing to improve national resilience. That is a curious achievement indeed from a stale, old government, eight years old, that is asking the Australian people for more years than the Howard government got. How is it possible that this government can sustain this proposition? I think I heard it best on Radio National this morning, when one of the people being interviewed said, very dismissively, 'This is the "believe it when I see it budget".'
Australians know that the Morrison government is all promise and no delivery—all announcement, no delivery. But, even this week, for all the billions of dollars that have been shovelled out the door, the promises and the announcements haven't made it to the end of the week. Poor old Minister Colbeck was on his feet today—I did feel sorry for him—having to defend the entirely indefensible on a matter as crucial to our national economic recovery as an effective vaccine rollout. Poor old Minister Colbeck. I know it's terrible. We tease him in here from time to time, because he stumbles over his stuff, and he gets his briefs confused. But, really, you could have been 21, a Harvard graduate, and not be able to defend the performance of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, Minister Tehan and Minister Hunt, who said four different things today about whether or not the government's actually committed to a target for the vaccine rollout. How is it that we've ended up with poor old National Party senators in here trying to defend the government's performance on infrastructure spending in Queensland and the Northern Territory? Almost all of it's after the forward estimates. You'd have to vote for these jokers not one more time, but two more times. To see a single shovel out there, to see a single steamroller, to see anything go on in any of these infrastructure projects, it would have to be a government that would get more than the Howard government got. It would have to be a government that would get more than Hawke and Keating got. You'd be touching the Robert Menzies period in government in order to achieve these things. But it's an eight-year-old, tired government that's out of ideas. The only thing that's left are announcements and promises. You'd get more years than John Howard got.
The Treasurer said, 'Our first priority is to keep Australians safe from COVID.' He announced some extra money for the vaccine program. It's not clear at all what the target is. Contrast it with what President Biden has done, which is set ambitious, stretched targets for the Americans, which they have met and exceeded every time. There's not a cent for quarantine. There's promise after promise that they'll expand capacity, but no commitment to quarantine. That's why they've let Australians of Indian background down so badly over the course of the last fortnight. They deliberately excluded the 40,000 Australians trying to get home, especially those 9½ thousand Australians stuck in India. They were locked out and then threatened with being locked up. They're in that position because of this government's failure on the vaccine rollout and on quarantine.
How is it that you have a budget that spends hundreds of billions of dollars, but universities are going to be cut by nearly 10 per cent? The country can't go forwards if universities go backwards. I'll give you a clue. Do you know where they develop vaccines? They develop them in university laboratories. Do you know where they develop solutions to the big problems that the country faces? They develop them at universities. Where do they educate the next generation of Australians who are going to take the country forward and do the things that are needed to meet the challenges of the future? They're educated in our university sector.
On this so-called tax relief, the Treasurer promised that low- and middle-income earners would have more of their money in their pockets to spend across the economy, so creating jobs. Well, that's just entirely dishonest. In the budget papers, in truth, the government is projecting a real wage cut. The cost of living is going to rise by 3.25 per cent. Real wages, for most Australians, will continue to fall. That means low- and middle-income Australians face a decline in their standard of living because of the choices that this government has made. Budgets really matter. They particularly matter if there's a relationship between what you say and what you do, and this budget will impoverish Australian families. There is absolute hypocrisy in the government's approach to tax cuts.
On Tuesday night the Treasurer promised more support for homeownership. But the consensus amongst economists is that everything the government has done here will make housing more out of reach for ordinary Australians, will make the dream of homeownership impossible for most Australian families. They've announced just 10,000—a drop in the ocean—first home owner grants and 10,000 additional grants for single mothers. But there are nearly half a million low- and very low-income households across Australia in unaffordable rental housing, and, on the government's figures, all of those households are facing a cut to their income. Research from last year found that there were 240,000 women aged 55 or older at risk of homelessness, and another 165,000 women in that position aged 45 to 54. Many of those people were in our regional cities. If you go to Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Wellington, Nowra, Lismore or Grafton, you'll find those families sleeping in cars or living in tents with little kids or sleeping under bridges with no prospect of decent housing because of the decisions that this government has made. Families in the suburbs, middle-income families, have no prospect of being able to afford their own home because of decisions that this government has made.
On skills and training, the Treasurer promised a record investment in skills and training. Here's what their friends in the Australian wrote about the package:
After years of the government rebadging skills programs, the dismal failure of last year's headline-grabbing JobMaker scheme, is a reminder of the need to be sceptical about skills announcements. … you'd have to be a foundation member of the Coalition cheer squad to accept this year's promises on apprenticeships and skills will end up being delivered over the forward estimates, given the government's record.
Do you remember JobMaker? I do. In the budget papers it was buried at page 248, four pages from the back. The centrepiece of last year's budget is being covered up and covered over. Why? Because it promised 450,000 jobs and delivered just 1,000. And the truth for those 1,000 people—the lucky 1,000 people who got a job out of this bunch of jokers—is that they face real wage cuts. The government's history on skills and training is utterly embarrassing. The best guarantee, of course, of future performance is an assessment of past performance. While there are all these big promises and big announcements, what's the truth of the matter on the government's performance in terms of apprenticeships and traineeships? There are 140,000 fewer of them. The PaTH program promised to get 120,000 Australians into a job. How many did it get? Well, it did better than JobMaker. It got 36,290 into a job.
Sitting suspended from 17:30 to 20:12