16 February 2022
While the bills today seek to appropriate a total of around $15.9 billion in 2021 across the two bills—$11.9 billion in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and $4 billion in Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022—I want to talk a little bit about economic management and the failures of this government, in particular what we are seeing at the dying end of a government that seems to be focused more on itself than the people of this country.
I'll start by talking about economic management. I assume this will be a hot topic during the next general election. The government likes to purport that they are great economic managers, that they have steered Australia through the global pandemic. But tonight I want to lift the veil on what we mean when we talk about financial responsibility when it comes to the day-to-day work of the government. It's pretty rich to be receiving lectures on fiscal responsibility from the most wasteful government since Federation, the government that doubled the debt before the pandemic—who can forget the 'Back in black' cups?—and a government that, for the first time in Australia's history, will deliver a trillion dollars of debt.
I remember the days when the debt trucks used to drive around before elections. As a former state secretary and campaign director, you could set your watch by the debt trucks driving around. They normally had trucks with double-sided billboards with 'Labor's debt bomb' on them. Well, I don't know if those debt trucks are on bricks in someone's house, or if they've been run off the road, because what we've seen delivered under this government is a trillion dollars worth of debt. Somehow I don't think we'll have an argument about debt in this country anymore.
The coalition has delivered eight deficits—more consecutive deficits than any other government since the 1920s—and it has projected at least 40 more to come. Despite the repeated hypocritical preaching on their commitment to low taxes, this government is the second-highest taxing government of the last 30 years and is now collecting $4½ thousand more per person than Labor did in 2013. And this is before we get to competency.
Let's look at their record. They failed on the vaccine rollout. They haven't delivered one single new federal quarantine facility. They didn't order enough rapid antigen tests. They presided over a crisis in aged care. They disappeared when workers and small businesses needed them to step up and show leadership. They handed out billions of dollars of JobKeeper payments to businesses whose revenue had increased and they pork-barrelled billions more taxpayer dollars in politically motivated grants.
The failures aren't limited to the budget either. The economy is suffering under this government's watch. Productivity has been flatlining. Poor productivity performance means a smaller economy, an economy that is growing far slower than it could be and it should be. Think about what another decade of failed productivity targets would do to the living standards of ordinary Australians. Unfortunately, the government rorts and wastage don't lead to productivity growth. To really get productivity moving we need investment in energy technology, infrastructure and human capital—in our people, not just the politics.
To analyse why we're in this situation you only need to look at the last two weeks. What has happened in the last two weeks? We've seen a government increasingly obsessed about itself and increasingly divided. Members have crossed the floor, undermining the parliament and undermining the Prime Minister of Australia. We have also seen a government completely destroying itself about integrity and have also seen cracks within its own cabinet.
This is what has happened in just the last two weeks. We have seen the textgate scandal, where former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian leaked and texted another Liberal cabinet minister—they could be from New South Wales or could be federal—talking about the Prime Minister. That's pretty tawdry stuff. I won't go there, because there's not enough time in today's debate.
Then we saw the former Deputy Prime Minister texting about the current Prime Minister. I won't be able to read into Hansard exactly what the former Deputy Prime Minister said because it contains a word that starts with 'l' and finishes with 'r'. Needless to say the quote goes something like this: 'Tell BH'—which is Brittany Higgins—'I and Scott, he is Scott to me until I have to recognise his office, don't get along. He is a hypocrite'—and someone who doesn't tell the truth—'from my observations and that's over a long time.' And this is the killer bit. He said, 'I have never trusted him and I dislike how he earnestly rearranges the truth' to be something that is not a truth.
This is the second in command in Australia. This is the 2IC. Of course it's embarrassing enough that that has been leaked and is now on the public record, but of course the Prime Minister said he only said that, according to the former Deputy Prime Minister, because we didn't work very well together and we didn't know each other that long. That is despite both of them serving in the cabinet and the current Prime Minister being the Treasurer at the time.
Those sitting at home are wondering what on earth is going on and why this government isn't focused on jobs, the economy, security and all of these things. They simply don't have time to worry about the issues facing Australia. This is TheHunger Games occurring in our nation's capital. It's not the Labor Party launching attacks or the crossbench launching attacks; it's government-on-government violence that we're seeing here.
We saw the serious and, quite frankly, illegal leaks from cabinet last week. Cabinet has been now leaking itself, and not just once but twice. We saw through the Ten Network that Mr Morrison was rolled in a cabinet meeting when he proposed a controversial strategy to get enough votes for his religious discrimination laws which were debated this week and held up in the Senate. It was reported that there was apparently a heated debate in which several ministers, including the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, passionately spoke against the plan.
We know that cabinet is rarely leaked. When you get to this stage it shows a government completely bereft of focusing on Australians and only focusing on themselves. Of course, last night we saw yet another leak. The Prime Minister's inner circle leaked against the former Minister for Education and Youth. His door may have been stripped of the title. Now we know that he doesn't even know whether he has got a job or not. Once again the government are focusing on themselves, not focusing on the people of Australia.
We need investment in infrastructure that will propel our economy forward, like cleaner and cheaper energy and an NBN that will underpin our digital economy. We need investment in our community. We need investment for projects to get people home sooner.
One of my election commitments from 2016 was an update of the Centenary Bridge. Although long overdue, the government has finally heard my pleas and the community's pleas to see this $220-million project invested in. It should not have taken five years. This money was put on the table early by the Palaszczuk Labor government—a government that proudly invests in infrastructure, that proudly delivers for the community. I give my thanks and pay my great respects to the minister for transport, the Hon. Mark Bailey, and also to one of the hardest-working state members in the country, Jess Pugh, the state member for Mount Ommaney, who I'm proud to say is one of my five local state MPs but also someone who fought tooth and nail to deliver this funding for the Centenary Bridge. This work will mean that the current bridge, which is over 50 years old, will be upgraded to six lanes, and the Jindalee off-ramps and on-ramps, finally, will be improved, which will see people getting home quicker but also not sitting in traffic. I'm really proud of this election commitment, and I'll be fighting tooth and nail to make sure this government delivers on its commitment and we see real progress on the Centenary Bridge.
I won't hold my breath, because, with this government and the Prime Minister, when it comes to the announcements and the photo ops, we know that they're great at photo ops and masters of making announcements and then not following through. Just today, we asked yet again about one of the greatest rorts in Australia's history, the car park rorts. When Minister Fletcher was asked about this project, he said, about people in Queensland: 'They're not asking about lines on spreadsheets; they're asking about: "How do we get a facility built so that we can get to work, not turn up and find there is nowhere to park."' That would be okay if the 48 car parks that were promised three years ago had been built. So take a random guess: how many of the 48 car parks have been built? Six. Once again, this government cannot be trusted when it comes to announcements. So, you betcha, I'll be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that we see the Centenary Bridge—the most important critical piece of infrastructure in my electorate—built.
I know there is someone who can be trusted to deliver those projects. That is the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Anthony Albanese—someone who is the most experienced infrastructure minister in this country's history, a former Deputy Prime Minister who has a wealth of experience from sitting in this parliament for over 25 years, and someone who, I know, won't just make promises but will actually deliver on what they say.
We'll have 'A Future Made in Australia' by co-investing in advanced manufacturing and other critical sectors to create jobs, diversify the economy and revitalise our regions through partnerships and businesses, to help turn good ideas into good secure jobs. When I visit businesses in my electorate—and I'm a proud supporter of small businesses; small businesses are the backbone of our economy. I come from a small business background: my parents proudly ran a business that started from scratch when my father came out of World War II and built a successful enterprise in his own name, with my uncle's name as well. We simply cannot allow businesses to suffer anymore under this government. Now, when I talk to local businesses, they simply say the same thing over and over again: they can't find qualified workers to fill their vacancies. They are saying it loud and clear. The skills simply aren't out there.
Those skills are not just going to magically materialise. It will take a government committed to investing in our young people and building our skills base to see any movement in this area. I want to see young Australians given a boost—given a chance at a good education and good skills training. We'll invest in skilling Australians, to make sure that they get ahead, by providing free TAFE and creating more university places.
Labor's $1.2 billion 'A Future Made in Australia' skills plan focuses on tackling skill shortages to help us all move forward through the COVID-19 pandemic and drive future economic growth. We know that, for nearly a decade, this government has cut TAFE and slashed apprenticeships. We now have 70,000 fewer apprenticeships and traineeships, compared to 2013. In my own electorate, there are 1,400 fewer apprentices than when this government came to power. The number has not been staying the same or levelling out; it's gone backwards.
That's why we need 20,000 new university places to fix shortages and fill future skill needs by training Australians in jobs, including engineering, nursing, tech and training, because Australia's economic future lies with its strongest asset—its people.
There's the cost of child care, and the fact that since this government was elected childcare fees have gone up 35 per cent. Combined with a decline in real wages, we've seen the childcare system become completely inaccessible for too many families.
It's no wonder the government can't focus on these things, no wonder they can't talk about building a future for working families in Australia, because they are simply focused on themselves and applying political bandaids to their many, many mistakes. Whether it is disunity, dysfunction or, quite frankly, dishonesty, it is making this government utterly paralysed. That's the central characteristic that defines the government. It doesn't just mean they're competent; it means things aren't getting done. Look at the issues around health and aged care. Quite frankly, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Greg Hunt, will go down in Australia's history as one of the worst health ministers our nation has ever seen.
The incompetence and character of this Prime Minister—where he won't hold a hose; he won't take responsibility. His character is now seen by the whole nation. We know that, time and time again, he cannot be trusted to deliver on the things that matter for all Australians. It's simply not good enough to say, 'It's not my job; it's someone else's job,' or, 'It's the states' responsibility.' We've seen over 700 lives lost in aged care, yet the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services in this country goes to the cricket but retains his job. That says it all. Whether it be leaks, whether it be attacks on the government, we on the side of the chamber know we'll continue to fight for all Australians.