Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:03 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

Most particularly, I want to take note of the answer given by Senator Gallagher to my question in relation to the treatment for neuroblastoma. The coalition has been calling on the government for some time to consider supporting patients with access to eflornithine, commonly known as DFMO, for Australian children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is extremely rare, and its diagnosis is absolutely devastating for families. This aggressive childhood cancer occurs mostly in young children, usually between birth and the age of five years. Tragically, 50 per cent of children diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma will not survive. However, a groundbreaking new treatment is available in the US, and it's been shown that it increases the chances of survival to 75 per cent.

DFMO is currently not registered or funded outside of the US. This means families are forced to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to access this life-saving treatment for their children, and they have to travel to the United States with immunocompromised children in order to get access to this particular treatment. Among these families are Tyler and Alix Richardson, whose one-year-old son Harris—or Hazzy, as he's often referred to—has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. The Richardson family have been forced to start a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Harris, and the family will need to risk flying all the way to the US to receive this treatment.

However, DFMO data is well known to Australian paediatric oncologists, patient advocates, patients and their families. It is our hope that the government will support these families by listing this life-saving medicine and allowing access until DFMO is able to be listed on the PBS.

This would support children like seven-year-old Holly Zerk, who is bravely battling neuroblastoma. With the support of her mum, Lee-Anne, and her dad, Travis, Holly has spent the past 13 months undergoing intense treatment, including multiple rounds of chemotherapy, which has left her seriously immunocompromised. Access to DFMO could potentially save Holly's life.

It would support nine-year-old Zai, who was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in March 2023. To date, he's been through eight rounds of chemo, two surgeries, a bone-marrow transplant and 12 rounds of radiation. The side effects of this treatment include reduced eyesight, permanent hearing loss and infertility. Zai's parents, Kalee and Arash, are desperately trying to raise $300,000 so he can receive DFMO, which could save his life.

It would support two-year-old Luna, who was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in July 2023. Luna has been through five rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, stem-cell therapy, a bone-marrow transplant, radiation and immunotherapy. Luna's parents, Samantha and Taylor, are desperately trying to raise $500,000 so she can access DFMO, which could save her life.

We know these children cannot afford to wait. Access to this potentially life-saving treatment is absolutely vital for these and many more Australian children. Unfortunately, Labor has a concerning track record of slowing down medicine listings as a way to save money. I truly hope this is not the case here. It is absolutely critical that the Albanese government does everything in its power to make sure that these children get access to this treatment because it will potentially save their lives.

Compassionate access and act-of-grace payments are available to this government right now. They do not have to wait for the process to go through. This is available as an action the government can take today. The government must also be upfront with these families across Australia who are going through one of the most heartbreaking journeys anyone could imagine, supporting their child to fight neuroblastoma. They've spent days and days in hospital watching their children have to undergo the treatments that I have described of the three young people I have just mentioned. But there are many more young Australians who are going through this treatment, and their families are going on this journey with them.

I think it is completely reasonable for these families to know from the government right now when the government is intending to provide the much-needed support so that they can access DFMO, and, hopefully, allow their children a greater chance of survival from this absolutely insidious condition. We ask the government: please, answer the calls of these families.

3:08 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In taking note of answers given by ministers today, I want to return to the question asked by Nationals senator Senator Davey to the Minister for Finance. She framed Labor's most recent budget as 'big spending' and asked a question about whether this so-called cost-of-living relief would have an impact on interest rates. What is telling about this question from the opposition is that they don't believe in the cost-of-living relief that we delivered in our budget.

In calling our budget 'big spending', what they are really saying is that we should not have spent money on providing cost-of-living relief to Australians. What they are really saying is that they would not have provided a tax cut for every single Australian taxpayer—only for some. What they are really saying by asking these questions about our budget is that they would not have provided power bill relief for millions of Australian households at a time when they also failed to do anything for 10 years to reduce power bills. What they are really saying is that they would not have provided $300 to every household to reduce their power bill. We know that; we don't need to look at the questions asked today. They voted against energy bill relief in this country. They voted against it in this chamber.

What they are saying by calling this relief 'so-called relief' is that they don't believe in the measures that we have delivered in our budget. They don't support fee-free TAFE. They don't support extending paid parental leave. Is that what the coalition considers 'so-called relief'? I think extending paid parental leave is a very good economic measure that will provide cost-of-living relief for Australians. They say that we failed to tell them that the budget contained putting superannuation on paid parental leave. Are these the measures that the coalition say go too far? Are these the measures that they say Australians don't deserve?

We on this side of the house, the Albanese Labor government, believe that Australians do deserve cost-of-living relief, and that's why we've delivered a tax cut for every single tax-paying Australian. That started on 1 July and will flow through to every single taxpayer, not just some. Our budget is delivering cost-of-living relief in the form of energy bill relief because we know it's important to every single household. It's why we're delivering cheaper child care and, importantly, the cheaper medicines that those opposite opposed on a number of occasions in this chamber. This is the type of measure in the budget that those opposite call big spending; I call it important relief for Australian households.

Finally, I want to address the question that Senator Cash put to Senator Wong about legislation we passed yesterday in this house to allow workers to have a say about what happens in their workplaces. It is galling that those opposite come in here and claim that they are a friend of working people, because we know that time and time again they have voted against measures to improve working conditions in workplaces and to improve the way that pay rises are given to workers. They had an economic policy of driving down minimum wages in this country to ensure that people were paid less, particularly low-paid workers. Under our policies, we have seen minimum wages go up. On 1 July, 2.8 million low-paid workers in Australia received a pay rise because of our government. We have also seen, finally, a decision from the Fair Work Commission to ensure that, if you work the same job, you get the same pay.

When the coalition come in here and ask questions about workplace relations or how we interact with workers and unions in this country, they would do well to consider voting for more legislation to support workers. The next time a bill to support working people comes in here, I hope that they vote for that as well. This government is keenly focused on ensuring that you keep more of what you earn, that you get a tax cut and that you get a pay rise. That is what our government is working for.

3:13 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the response to the question from Senator Cash about the CFMEU and Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamation) Bill 2024, which the Senate passed yesterday. Yet again, while listening to the answer on this issue and this legislation, I couldn't help but think of the old but very true saying, 'You are the company that you keep.' If people don't trust the company you keep, they cannot trust you. The company you keep is a reflection of who you are and who you aspire to be. There's one man who's never been elected to this Senate or to the other place yet who, until yesterday, may as well have been sitting on the government benches. That is, of course, the odious John Setka. His name has come up many times in this chamber. On our side of parliament, it's because of his odiousness, because he is a bully, because he intimidates women and because he does the bidding of the trade union movement—but who does the bidding of whom? He may as well have been sitting over there when the government repealed our legislation on the demerger. Then, astonishingly, he moved to the Greens benches, because they are now his biggest advocate. It is inexplicable to those on this side of the chamber. It is inexplicable how those opposite, including now the Greens, can keep company with and do the bidding of John Setka. Why don't you just nominate him as a candidate for your party? He may as well be here in this room. But the question is why? Why on earth would those opposite keep doing the bidding of somebody who courts have described as a criminal, a bully, a standover merchant and as someone who treats women, including his own wife, with the utmost disrespect? That is hardly setting the standard. In fact, it is anything but setting the standard.

What we have seen with the introduction and passing of this legislation is nothing of astonishing. Minister Burke, the Prime Minister and all of those opposite have admitted that they failed, that they were wrong to do the union bidding in February when they repealed the demerger legislation. Guess what? They had to come back here in this chamber yesterday and reverse that legislation. They admitted they made a mistake. And, yet, the Greens supported this most odious of standover merchants, who has been threatening the AFL and whose conduct is again under consideration by the Fair Work Commission. We have heard the chants, as has everybody opposite, many times: 'Union power. Solidarity forever.' But we have seen it's not just a remnant of the bygone Communist era. It is alive and well today. 'Solidarity forever, comrades. The union makes us strong'—but it makes you weak and it makes you vulnerable to people like John Setka. Each and every one of you who repealed that legislation and now have your tails between your legs should hang your heads in shame. It should not be 'solidarity forever'. It should be, 'Support the unions that support their members and that respect their members and stand up for them.' There are ones that do it in a legal way. There are unions and representatives who respect women, who respect the law and who treat the rest of us with dignity.

Shame on all of you on that side of the parliament who are still doing the bidding of John Setka. 'Solidarity forever' should never be uttered again, because for you, and now the Greens, it means solidarity with John Setka and the CFMEU.

3:18 pm

Varun Ghosh (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answers to the questions asked by Senators Davey and Cash. Senator Davey asked a question about inflation and how cost-of-living measures, in her proposition, were going to drive up inflation. I'd like to deal with that as a matter of substance. When the Albanese government came to office, we had three wicked aspects of a problem that was left to us by the previous government. The first was inflation. Inflation had a 'six' in front of it, and it had been higher before that. The second was a budget that was in a state of disrepair. That was as a consequence of the fiscal policy of the two previous governments but particularly the Morrison government. We also had the difficulty of cost-of-living pressures and stagnant wages. Those are the three things that the government has endeavoured to address in its policy since.

In relation to inflation itself, there was a slight uptick in the monthly inflation in the last month's figures. Ultimately, monthly inflation has proved volatile both here and around the world, but, if you look at the trend since this government came to office, you will see it's been a broadly downward one, and we'd expect that to continue.

In terms of budget repair, this government has now delivered two budget surpluses. That puts downward pressure on inflation. In terms of wages and cost-of-living relief, this government has actually engaged in responsible and measured policies that will assist those who are on the downside of advantage or the people suffering most. I will start with minimum wages and wage increases because cost-of-living pressures are often highest for those who earn the least. From 1 July, a few days ago, the national minimum wage and the minimum award wage have been increase by 3.75 per cent by the Fair Work Commission, and that is in line with the submission that the government made in relation to its review. Over the three Fair Work Commission annual reviews since the 2022 election, minimum wages have increased by 5.2 per cent, 8.6 per cent and a 3.75 per cent, and 2.6 million workers on minimum wage are now directly benefiting from these increases. Across those three annual wage review decisions since coming to government, the wages of minimum wage earners have increased by $143 per week, or by $7,451 per year, and that is consequential for people who are facing financial pressures or finding it difficult. A full-time minimum wage earner's annual salary has gone from $40,175 to $47,627.

Through a commitment to industrial relations reform and reversing some of the punitive measures that Liberal and National coalitions have implemented over their years in government, this government has also recognised the importance of the trade union movement, ensuring that working people in Australia receive good wages. The antipathy to that movement and for people who put themselves through collective action on the side of people who don't have power in a workplace and endeavour to lift their wages can be felt palpably from the other side. That's not just an immediate policy that assists with cost-of-living relief; it's also a longer-term policy that's of benefit to fairness and opportunity in Australia.

In his book Battlers and Billionaires, Assistant Minister Andrew Leigh observed that unions have a vital role in fighting the rise of economic inequality in our society. Minister Leigh observed, 'A fall in union membership has been shown to be responsible for a significant portion of the rise in US inequality in the 1980s, and up to a third of the increase in inequality during the eighties and nineties was due to the collapse of union membership in Australia.' Unions stand on the side of working people in order to live their wages, and, from a cost-of-living perspective, the numbers I discussed earlier for the 2.6 million lowest-paid Australians are numbers that will make a real difference to people's lives.

We've also heard about a tax cut for every Australian, and, in my home state of Western Australia, that's 1.5 million people who will receive a tax cut of around $2,000 on average. In terms of energy bill relief, in WA, the residents of our great state will receive $300 from the federal government and $400 from the state government. That's $700 in the next year. These are real measures that are putting money into people's pockets and they're helping on the ground.

3:23 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of answers given by government senators to coalition questions today. I have to say it did amuse me to hear the Labor Party, who in their talking points—and you hear them trotted out all the time—claim to be so concerned about the cost of living, spend all their time talking about the coalition. They can't talk about what they're doing to deal with the cost of living, because, of course, they've broken so many promises with regard to cost of living since they came to government. These are things they said they would do before the election that haven't come to pass since the election. They talk about their $300 rebate for electricity prices, but, of course, that $300 rebate wouldn't be necessary if they'd kept their election promise to reduce energy prices by $275. It was a very clear promise made by the Prime Minister and the now government on no less than 97 occasions.

So what they're now doing is spending taxpayers' money instead of keeping the promise that they made to reduce energy prices, making contributions to rising inflation and rising cost of living. They've spent all this time talking about the coalition, but of course they have to do that because their policies aren't working. They trot out the talking points and they think that, if they say the talking point enough times, they might come true.

They're not convincing the Australian people, though, because what the Australian people are seeing is food prices up by 11.4 per cent, housing up by 14 per cent, rents up by 14.2 per cent, electricity up by 21.5 per cent and gas up by 22 per cent. They trot out the rhetoric about health, but of course costs there have gone up 11.1 per cent as well. And even education is up 10.9 per cent.

When the Reserve Bank says to us, at Senate estimates, that the budget isn't shifting the dial, that means that the government isn't doing its bit and the Reserve Bank has to make extra effort, and that means holding interest rates higher and that contributes to higher inflation. That's what is happening, and that is what the previous Reserve Bank governor said to Senate estimates last year.

Of course, the Reserve Bank now is being much more bold and saying that spending by governments, state and federal, is contributing to inflation, which is putting upward pressure on inflation—not downward pressure on inflation, which is what the government are claiming—and therefore that is impacting on Australians in the community. The government should be straight up and down and admit the failure of their policy and their broken promises.

Question agreed to.