Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Matters of Urgency


5:06 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The President has received the following letter from Senator McKim:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Labor's second budget is a betrayal of the people promised that no one would be left behind".

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

5:07 pm

Photo of Barbara PocockBarbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Labor's second budget is a betrayal of the people promised that no one would be left behind".

I rise to speak on the fact that Labor's budget is a betrayal of too many people who were promised that no-one would be left behind. This budget is the first since the tabling of the report of the Select Committee on Work and Care, which I chaired. This was the government's first chance to address its 33 recommendations. It's report is a majority report. It's senators from Labor worked really hard alongside me to bring those recommendations to this parliament for action. Labor supported them in full, and the committee took evidence from people all around the country. We recommended a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing the challenges of work and care in this country. It is action that would address the broken parts of our care economy and properly support the workers who make up our workforce, so many of whom are women responsible for others while holding down a job most days of the week.

These challenges have only got worse in the months since our report was tabled. The housing crisis has become much worse. The cost-of-living crisis is runaway in our cities and our towns. This budget was a chance to squarely address the challenges that our committee revealed. This was their chance to make sure working carers weren't left behind. So how do we evaluate the budget in terms of that issue of who has been left behind? Let's start with a couple of bright spots.

Firstly, the change to the single parenting payment which reverses the Gillard government's act of cruelty 10 years ago that forced so many single parents, mostly mothers, onto JobSeeker when their child turned not 16 not just 8 is a bright spot, for sure. But, incredibly, they were unable, they couldn't bring themselves, to fully fix their mistake of 10 years ago. They've left 15,000 families—parents of 14- and 15-year-olds—on JobSeeker, living in poverty. Just $80 million of that $2.4 billion surplus would have addressed that question and fully fixed their mistake under the Gillard government 10 years ago. Shame! It is a really serious error to have left those families behind.

A second bright spot that I want to mention is the allocation of $11 billion to a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers, which our committee recommended and supported. That is also very good. But it's worth reminding ourselves that Labor had to be pushed to meet its obligation on this front. It tried to stretch the 15 per cent pay rise to be paid over two years, but the unions were outraged about this attempt to stall the full wage increase and had to fight to make sure that aged-care workers—overworked, underpaid, with no career structure and leaving in droves from the industry—weren't left behind by this budget.

Against those bright spots, where are we on the broader set of recommendations that our committee made? Firstly, our report recommended a pay rise for all care workers, childcare workers and disability workers. They are left waiting and facing a crisis in their workforce. Beyond pay, we recommended a significant investment in 100 new childcare centres, which are desperately needed in childcare deserts across our country—still waiting. We recommended that the government find a pathway towards 52 weeks paid parental leave, the international standard on paid parental leave, which Australian women living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet have a right to expect—still missing; left behind.

There's much more that our inquiry recommended that is missing from this budget, such as free childcare and an increase in benefits that take people out of poverty, not a $2.85 increase in JobSeeker, which is less than a loaf of bread. There's so much more to be done in work and care. Much of it was affordable in a budget but was held back by a fetish about the surplus and Labor's choice to go easy on the tax industry and taxing them properly over the welfare of working carers. These are choices that put submarines before our kids' welfare. These are choices that put the stage 3 tax cuts in front of making childcare free, paying carers what they deserve and lifting our paid parental leave to the international standard.

There's so much to be done to reform our workplace relations system. We will be working on that from the Greens' perspective to push further and faster for job security for so many of our workers. This budget has left too many things undone at a time when we could have gone much further, especially for the most vulnerable. We have to stop running our economy on the underpaid work of carers and the overwork of those who hold down jobs while juggling kids and all kinds of care. We must do better.

5:12 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to speak on this urgency motion. It's rare that I stand here to speak on a Greens urgency motion. I agree with the words of the urgency motion that the government has betrayed Australians. They have betrayed Australians, perhaps not in the same way as the Greens would characterise that betrayal. But the betrayal that I see most starkly is the betrayal of refusing to confront the scourge of inflation in this budget and in last year's budget. Inflation is a secret hidden tax on every Australian. Whether you've got $10 in the bank or $1,000 in the bank thousand or $100,000 in the bank, inflation makes you poorer. It reduces the spending power of the money you have. If you are one of those people who needs to spend everything they earn or receive in benefits, inflation is a curse.

Make no mistake: inflation is a betrayal. Any government that fails to tackle inflation seriously and leaves all the heavy lifting in the inflation space up to the Reserve Bank is betraying Australians, every Australian, from the poorest to the wealthiest. It is a betrayal of our nation; it is a betrayal of every business in this country. It erodes the buying power of every Australian. It means that, when they go to the shops, their purchasing power is reduced; the basket of goods they can buy is smaller. It means that, when they go to fill up their car at the petrol station in the face of very high petrol costs, they also face inflationary costs. That means the value of the dollar in their pocket is less. That means that, instead of putting in a full tank of fuel, people have to decide whether to put in half a tank of fuel. It leads to massive declines in real wages. This is something I will dwell on because those opposite keep insisting they are the champions of the workers when, in actual fact, the record is very clear and very stark that they are betraying every worker in this country by not tackling the curse of inflation.

Throughout the period of the last coalition government, contrary to the myths spread by those opposite, real wages actually grew. Real wages grew until we were hit by a once-in-a-century pandemic. Real wages grew under the coalition government, and what did we see? The Labor government came in and failed to tackle the curse of inflation, and now we see real wages plummeting. The December quarter saw a 4½ per cent decline in real wages in this country—a decline not seen in decades. That is what inflation does, and that is why the failure of this government to tackle the scourge of inflation in this budget is the ultimate betrayal of every Australian family, of every Australian business and of every Australian voter.

Let's hear what some serious economists said about this Labor budget. It's not just me or those of us on this side of the chamber saying this. Stephen Anthony, Managing Director at Macroeconomics Advisory, said: 'This was Jim Chalmers chance to really cut. In fact, he's a net spender. Over his two documents so far and his two budgets over the last 12 months, he is making life harder for the RBA and for working Australians because he's not getting to the meat of the problem.' Chris Richardson, from Rich Insight, said: 'If you want to do all the fairness stuff and at the same time keep the Reserve Bank on the bench, I'd say you need to take some tough decisions, and, by and large, we haven't seen those tough decisions. I had thought, after the surprise rate rise from the Reserve Bank last month, that they were done and dusted. I'm less clear now that that's the case.' I have four or five other quotes from economists demonstrating that this government has completely failed to tackle inflation, and that is the ultimate betrayal.

5:17 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going to give a different speech, but I actually might give another one in light of the speech we just heard on the Greens' matter of urgency. The comments made before were quite alarming. There is nobody in this room, in this Senate, who does not see that inflation is an important thing for us all to tackle, but those opposite are suggesting that there is no policy initiative other than saying it's important to tackle and that it's the only thing we should be doing. Across the way, they were doing things and saying things for a very long time when they were in government, and, during the federal election, when we started talking about the cost of living, they didn't understand that dealing with the cost of living is about turning around and making sure that you have the capacity to pay for the costs that you're bearing. That's why the important changes that were made by Labor in the industrial relations field and the workplace relations field have been so critically important.

But, before the election, those opposite wouldn't even support an increase of $1 an hour to the lowest paid workers in this economy. They refused to turn around and support it, and they still won't break ranks. The former Prime Minister is gone—he is about to go, go, go out of the seat of Cook—and they still won't break ranks. He's made the right decision, but they still hold it to their hearts.

The cost of living is about a precept. It's an actual idea about how much money some people are making and how little others are forced to make. Look at the situation with the campaign during the 2022 federal election: the Liberal and National parties refused to commit to funding the aged-care pay order made by the Fair Work Commission. We just did that after this election. So, when they start talking about what needs to change, what they're really saying is that they're still sticking with their old policies—that if people are going to pay for it should be the ones who can least afford it, largely those in feminised industries like the care industry. We've paid and budgeted for that. We've made sure that we've put the money towards that 15 per cent wage increase, which is critical to the Australian economy, to the public and also to giving value back to the aged-care sector.

I always think that, when they start talking about inflation and what that means, what they're really saying is that you don't matter, because we know and everybody in here knows that inflation is important. For example, at the Senate estimates in 2021, the former Assistant Minster for Industrial Relations, Senator Stoker said that, if gig workers are earning less than the minimum wage, then that's their choice because they entered into the contract. That's what they think: you can never get paid too little. How do you deal with the cost of living? You can never get paid too little as far as those opposite are concerned. Of course, at the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living on 1 March this year, Senator Hume claimed that wages and working conditions are irrelevant to the cost of living. That's what you've got to say when people get up here and start saying, 'What is the importance of tackling inflation?' Actually, they're not about tackling inflation at all, and they're not about tackling the cost of living. They're about turning around and making sure that they look after certain particular interests.

The tripling of the bulk-billing incentive for GPs has been critical. Increasing JobSeeker by $40 per fortnight is a step in the right direction. Providing $500 to more than five millions households to help with power bills is a step in the right direction. Increasing Commonwealth rental assistance by 15 per cent is a step in the right direction. Delivering a surplus for the first time in 15 years and reducing the deficit is important because it talks about our capacity for programs in the future—the things that many of us in this place, though not all of us, hold dear. Delivering an extra $2 billion for social and affordable housing is critical. They are critical steps, as are building a national emergency stockpile, making multinational companies pay a fair share of tax, supporting small business with cashflow support and extending the instant asset write-off. And there are a lot more. There are more and more and more.

I've only got 37 seconds left, but what I want to say is that part of this important program, going forward, is making sure that we've got money for affordable housing. It's a step forward. That is really critical. Investing an additional $2 billion to enable more social and affordable housing to be built is critical. PowerHousing described it as a 'transformative reform' that will 'enable the housing needs of significantly more Australians to be met'. The Housing Industry Association said, 'We have to put something in place right now.' The National Shelter described it as 'the most critical housing legislation to be brought forward in the past 10 years'— (Time expired)

5:22 pm

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

or GROGAN () (): This really is quite the fascinating debate. I think, if you had sat in this place over the course of the last decade under the coalition government, particularly in those dying years, it would have been pretty easy to forget what good government actually looks like. So we do understand how confused you are when you look at the budget that was delivered yesterday and you see a balanced and sensible budget, but hang around long enough and maybe you'll learn something. Good government is all about pulling the right levers at the right time and making sure we balance all of the various areas of the budget. As the Treasurer said last night, we sought in all decisions to strike a considered and methodical balance. We need to exercise restraint and keep the pressure off inflation, but we also need to help those people out there who are struggling and ensure that vital services like Medicare and NDIS are delivered to those Australians who need them. Labor has delivered a budget that relieves that pressure. We've delivered a budget that is meaningful and that has significant cost-of-living relief for Australian households.

Senator Sheldon has given a good list of the kinds of things we have in that budget to assist Australians, including with their power bills and health costs, supporting vulnerable Australians, creating more affordable housing and boosting wages. Regardless of the stunts and the grandstanding that we've seen today in this place, ordinary Australians are relieved to have seen a balanced budget that will genuinely make a difference to their lives. We don't pretend that everything has been fixed here at all. Not in any of the commentary yesterday did we claim that we've reached some sort of utopia. But, on the back of the chaos that we have seen, the challenges within the budget when we came to government and the things that we have had to fix, we have taken that first significant step that will fix the challenges that we've seen in this country over some time.

I have been on the Select Committee on the Cost of Living over a number of months, and what became very clear to me in the first raft of hearings for that committee was that the Labor government inherited climbing energy prices due, in large part, to the energy policy chaos from those opposite. We confirmed that with the expert witnesses and the witnesses with lived experience. We also saw quite clearly from the housing experts and the housing peak bodies that the Labor government inherited a dramatic housing supply shortage due, in part, to the inaction of those opposite. On every level, in every function of that committee, we have seen that this crisis—claimed by those around me to have popped up miraculously on 21 May last year—was about long-term structural problems that had been baked into the budget by chaos and inattention and ideological beliefs.

One of the things that is really critical and topical today as we desperately try to debate the Housing Affordability Future Fund is where we are going on housing. It's such a critical issue. We need to do more on housing. The Labor government is aiming to do more on housing but we are getting blocked by our colleagues in this place. And who is standing in the way? The Liberal Party, the National Party and the Greens. One lot thinks that a $10 billion investment is too small to be worth the effort and so they would rather have nothing. The others think it is too easy to mismanage a $10 billion housing fund. Newsflash—you make be the rorting pinnacle of Australian politics, but we are Labor and we are in government and there will be no mismanagement of that fund. The Housing Australia Future Fund is a critical nation-building fund that will deliver critical housing that we desperately need in this country, and right now we are standing in this chamber with each of the other political parties—the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens party—intending to block $10 billion in housing.

5:27 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

In a cost-of-living crisis, the women in this country demanded and deserved bold action from this new government. Instead, we got more of the same half-measures and more of the spin that we saw in the October budget. One of the most heartbreaking things in the budget last night for me as the Greens spokesperson on women was that the government continues to ignore the calls from front-line domestic and family violence response services for enough funding so that they don't have to turn people away who seek their help. The government is continuing to ignore those calls and the sector has been making those calls for nigh on a year. They have been calling for $1 billion every year so they don't have to turn away people who seek their help.

The funding shortfall that was delivered last night will see one in three women not able to get the help that they need. Women, children, people fleeing from violence—one in three of them will not be funded to get the help they need. Those services will be underfunded, and while Labor continues to underfund those domestic and family violence support services, and while victim-survivors continue to be turned away from crisis accommodation or told by the legal help line, 'I'm sorry, we just don't have enough staff to advise you,' one woman is murdered every 10 days in this country. The government has spoken about difficult choices in the lead-up to the budget, but many women are now facing an impossible choice: stay in an unsafe home or leave and put themselves and their kids at risk of homelessness. Women are choosing between violence and homelessness, and this government had the opportunity last night to fix that. Instead, it kept $254 billion in tax cuts to wealthy white blokes while women and children fleeing violence are not going to get the help they need to keep them safe. That was an active choice by this government and I was absolutely gutted to see that they refused to give those front-line prevention and response services the funding they need to save women's lives. What can be more important than that?

Now, it is not just the Greens who are saying that, so too do a number of media commentators and all of the fabulous feminist advocates and women's safety advocates, including Renee Carr from Fair Agenda, who says, 'We welcome the $723 million but it still falls short of the $1 billion we need. Many women will be left without the support they need to be safe and recover from violence.' She says, 'We know specialist services can make a life-saving and life-changing difference to women trying to escape violence or recover from sexual assault but they need to be resourced.' Well, you had your chance. How dare you condemn women into poverty, violence and homelessness while dishing out money for submarines, fossil fuels, wealthy white guys and property investors.

5:30 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Prime Minister promised his government would leave no-one behind. Yesterday's budget showed the opposite. It left behind: refugees and asylum seekers, those on welfare payments—yes, the small increase is welcome but insufficient—people with disabilities, First Nations people seeking justice, homeless people, people on the public housing waiting list, people on low incomes, renters without rent assistance and students. We're in a cost-of-living crisis which affects struggling families and communities who are battling, yet this government, a Labor government supposedly representing the working class, is more concerned with providing tax cuts to the rich than housing, food and support for those who need it.

5:31 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I wanted to put the words of a young person on the record in this parliament because they are the ones with the most to lose from the budget that doesn't invest in the future or, indeed, the present. Everyone is talking about who wins and loses out of the budget. Let's look at that, and thank you, Taylor Tran, for these words:

Young people—you win! Because HECS loans will rise 7.1% in June. You also get $2.85 extra in your pocket in JobSeeker and YouthAllowance to tackle the cost of living crisis and an extra $24 a fortnight to pay your rent.

You're welcome, the government promised they wouldn't leave you behind!

Women, you win most of all. There is no new funding for access to contraception and abortion—which are two key benchmarks of the national women's health strategy.

You didn't need it anyway.

People in the arts—you win! A few million will be funnelled into our institutions of art like the National Gallery, and a few more will go into attracting big-budget screen productions into our backyard so you can be employed.

Nevermind the fact that it still costs and arm and a leg to study art at a tertiary level under the Job Ready Graduates Package, the Government has not left you behind. So if you can afford to graduate, you win!

The environment—you won last night as well! Nevermind the fact we should aim for net zero emissions by 2030. This budget delivers $11 billion for fossil fuel subsidies and breadcrumbs for national parks. Apparently we have a just transition away from fossil fuels without spending any money—just don't ask how.

Don't forget stage 3 tax cuts are still on the table, and the research shows the economy is far from flourishing at the moment.

So, really, the Labor government's budget hasn't left anyone behind, not at all, not unless you're talking about young people, students, women's health, the environment or the arts. Thank you, Taylor, for speaking truth to power in this debate.

5:33 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator McKim for this motion, which I support. The Albanese-Chalmers government is indeed leaving people behind: It leaves behind everyday Australians struggling to make their mortgage or rental payment, struggling with rising electricity bills and rising grocery bills. This budget leaves agricultural and rural communities behind. This budget leaves small business behind. This budget leaves heavy industry and manufacturing behind. And this budget leaves the mining industry, mining communities and mining workers behind.

Last night the Treasurer repeatedly acknowledged the surplus came from increased revenue for the things we export, without once mentioning what the things are. Treasurer, say the name: mining, agriculture. These are paying for increased assistance to Australians in the budget. If the pool is not large enough to help everyone, One Nation has a simple solution—proven: invest in infrastructure, drive business growth and expand the pie so all Australians can save and have more.

5:34 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Last night's budget did not meet the needs of the disability community. Through a combination of its eight per cent cap on the NDIS and so-called effectiveness measures, the Labor Party is ripping over $74 billion out of our NDIS over the decade. Disabled people see this as a stab in the back. It is a broken promise from a government and a minister who promised that they would work in co-design on the big decisions, and it is a massive divergence from the road of reform and review that we were travelling down together in relation to the NDIS.

The Greens are incredibly concerned that there was not a single dollar put towards implementing the recommendations of the Disability Royal Commission that will be handed to the government in September. Shame! We are incredibly concerned—and join with the community in fury and frustration—that DSP was not raised across the board. For those on the disability support pension, most of them have been left behind in this budget. The Greens are committed to working with the disability community to push back, to get this cap scrapped and to block any and all cuts. Together, we established our NDIS. Together, we defeated the Morrison government in relation to independent assessments and, together, we will defeat this Labor government if it attempts to cap or to cut our NDIS.

5:36 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Billions to the rich, subsidies to coal and gas, and rhetoric for the rest. The PM said that this would be a Labor budget. Well, I guess we now know what that really means. It seems that Labor have abandoned the economic base of their party just so they can win a petty argument with radio shock jocks over delivering a surplus. Rest easy, debt hawks: your nest is safe with the Labor Party. I hope the victory lap for a Tory campaign slogan was worth it. There were thousands of people in this country who were starving last night and, after the budget, they still will be.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion as moved by Senator Barbara Pocock at the request of Senator McKim be agreed to.