Morrison Government's Lack of Vision - 25/05/2021

25 May 2021


I rise today to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022. Never has Australia seen a less impressive budget. Never has an Australian government spent so much to achieve so little. Never have the Australian people been left behind by a government as they have been left behind by the Morrison government. Labor has been saying for a long time now that the Morrison government doesn't care about you, and this budget absolutely proves that. The Prime Minister is all talk and no action. During the bushfires, he said, 'I don't hold a hose, mate.' And that is his approach to everything. He blames the states, he blames other people and he takes no responsibility. He hates to be questioned and he hates accountability.

Through this pandemic, Labor have been a constructive opposition. If it were not for Labor calling for a wage subsidy, we would never have seen the JobKeeper payment. We have supported the government in the things that needed to happen, and we have acknowledged successes where there have been successes, like the JobKeeper payment, albeit that there were many people left out of that. It is a stark contrast to the Liberal-National coalition when we were getting Australia through the global financial crisis. Essentially, the Morrison government have had two jobs through this pandemic. Two things are strictly a federal government responsibility: quarantine and vaccinations. We have seen those bungled completely. We have seen the Prime Minister still scrambling and avoiding giving any kind of commitment as to when Australians can expect to have access to a vaccination. And we have seen the devastating situation in India, where we have had to tell Australian citizens that they can't come home because we don't have the quarantine facilities to manage them, which is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable. But the federal government, led by Scott Morrison, just puts this on the states. He's doing nothing to address it, and there was nothing in his budget about that.

This budget did nothing to combat poverty in Australia. It did nothing for social housing in Australia. It has not done anything to solve the catastrophic issues with aged care. Rather, as it so often does, this government is hiding behind a headline figure. It hides behind the announcement. There's no follow-up; there's no plan. And I want to talk more about that. The budget confirmed the worst fears of the disability community, with the government continuing to talk about hard conversations and sustainability. As a hard-working local member, I listen to people with disability and NDIS participants, and every person in this place must hear the stories of people on the NDIS fighting desperately for the most basic of supports, while the minister talks about it not being sustainable and talks about relying too much on the empathy of public servants. People are rightfully disgusted by that. But I'm also on the NDIS joint parliamentary committee. We had two hearings last week. It was incredibly harrowing to hear people's experiences and to be confronted with that brick wall this government puts up, with the minister not listening at all, showing no empathy herself and talking about too much empathy.

Coming back to the budget, it has confirmed that this coalition government has no plan on climate change—again, doubling down on the fact that we're not even quite committed as a nation to zero emissions by 2050. This is a real opportunity to invest in renewable energy and become the renewable energy superpower that Australia could be.

This is a budget that has continued the ideological crusade against our public universities, cutting funding by 9.3 per cent. We've already seen 17,000 jobs lost. We've seen people walking away from research projects at a time when the world is relying on this research to address issues like the pandemic, like climate change. We're abandoning it. When young people need to know they have jobs into the future, that they can access the university education or the vocational education that they need to get the jobs of the future, this government is doing nothing for them and it's cutting it.

Labor is the party of vision in this country. As our shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said in his Press Club address: 'No Labor budget would ever be so devoid of vision as what we have seen from this government'. Labor is the party that, under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, set-up the foundations for the economic growth that we saw then squandered under the Howard government. Labor is the party that got us through the global financial crisis. It did that by investing in low-income households, in building our nation—things like that. We're the party that did Medicare and continue to defend it against coalition attacks. We are party that has done more than this government could ever dream of to protect our natural environment. We are the only party that has ever taken any serious action on climate change, introducing our first carbon price. When we talk about vision I want to quote Paul Keating, because he is one of our most visionary leaders that we've seen in Australian history. He said:

We will not adopt the fantastic hypocrisy of modern conservatism which preaches the values of families and communities, while conducting a direct assault on them through reduced wages and conditions and job security.

There is no more relevant example of that than this budget, because what we have seen in this budget—after eight years of wage stagnation under this government—is not only do they have no plan for wages, but that they have acknowledged, in their own budget papers, that wages will grow slower than inflation over the next four years. That is a real wage cut for Australians over the next four years. That is the thanks that workers get for getting us through this pandemic. We have fared so well because Australians care for one another and are dedicated to doing the right thing, and because of the hard work of our aged-care workers, frontline health workers—people who are still not being vaccinated.

This should be the top priority of this government at the moment, ensuring that people are getting vaccinated. First of all, frontline health workers and the most vulnerable—older people, people in disability. It's just shameful that we have seen that people with disability are barely having access to vaccines yet. We're going to continue to call on the Prime Minister to answer these questions. What are you doing about the vaccine rollout? This is a government that has spent $1 billion on advertising and we have not seen a public advertising campaign around getting vaccinated. We are seeing mixed messages, even from their health minister, about waiting for particular vaccines—wink-wink, nudge-nudge. This is serious. This is incredibly serious. They talk a lot about the economy and the economy is not going to get back on its feet until we are not at risk of lockdown, which we will be until we get a significant proportion of the Australian community vaccinated.

We can see a situation looming where countries that have not fared anywhere near as well as Australia, countries that are really suffering around the world, are going to be opening up their borders before we are, because under this government we cannot get a vaccination rollout right.

I want to come to aged care, because I think this is a perfect example of how this government is all about the announcement and not about the follow through. The centrepiece of their budget has been $17 billion of funding for aged care. Sure, that sounds like a big figure; it does. But don't be fooled. It falls so far short of what the royal commission into aged care recommended be done to fix this system, which is in absolute crisis.

Anyone who, like me or the people whom I talk to in my electorate, has had a personal experience with aged care knows that it is in crisis. They know that it is in crisis from the experiences they have with their loved ones each and every day. When you talk to people about aged care, they all know the problem is around staffing. It's around people not receiving good enough pay. It's around there not being enough staff. That is where a lot of this money needs to go to fix this problem. None of it has been directed that way through this government's announcement. This announcement gives all the money to providers, with no guarantee that any of it be put into decent wages for aged-care workers.

These people must be saints to work for the money that they work for and to do the things that they do, and I can tell you that they are, because in the last sitting, when I was speaking to people who are aged-care workers, it was just so clear that their deep dedication to the people whom they care for is the reason they get up and do this job every day. Those people are being let down by this government. The residents are being let down and the workers are being let down.

This package does nothing about the fact that so many people in aged care are malnourished. In a country like Australia they are actually starving. These are our older Australians, who have worked their entire lives. At a time when they're vulnerable and they need care, this government is directing the money to the people whom we've seen in the media reportedly buying Maseratis and those sorts of things. This is while our parents, grandparents and loved ones aren't getting three decent meals a day. It's not good enough, and Australians are not fooled.

They've fobbed this off and delayed or outright rejected key recommendations of the royal commission into aged care. They've failed to clear the home-care package waiting list. This is another thing: we all know that most older people want to stay in their homes as long as they can, but we are seeing the tragic situation where people on waiting lists are dying while they wait to have someone come and help them with their meals or manage their house so they can stay in their house as long as they can. There is a waiting list of 100,000 people. If you think about that money, it's not going far enough. It sounds like a big figure, but it's not.

They've also ignored the recommendation to require a nurse to be on duty 24/7 in aged-care facilities. This has been something that unions and aged-care groups have been campaigning on for many, many years. It's obvious. Just do it. Just get it right. Again, there is the issue of staff ratios in aged care. They have shirked the main increase to mandatory care minutes in residential aged care. As I've said, staffing levels are central to many of the quality care problems in aged care. This announcement does nothing to ensure that they are fixed.

There is the issue of housing. This budget has done next to nothing for social housing, whereas in our budget reply we announced that an Albanese Labor government will create a $10 billion off-budget Housing Australia Future Fund to build social and affordable housing and create thousands of jobs now and in the longer term. Over the first five years, this investment will build around 20,000 social housing properties. Four thousand of the 20,000 social housing properties will be allocated to women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and to older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness, which is the fastest-growing group of homeless people at the moment in this country. Ten thousand affordable housing properties will be provided for frontline workers. A total of $1.7 billion will be allocated to women, $1.6 billion for long-term housing and an additional $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence.

This is the sort of vision this country needs at the moment. The pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time for Australia and the world, and it will continue to be. But we should look for the positives in it. The positive that I am so proud that our leader, Anthony Albanese, has continued to talk about through all of this is that it is a chance to reset and rebuild better. It is a chance to build an economy that is more sustainable by investing in renewables, because good climate policy is good jobs policy. We need to be honest with people whose jobs aren't going to survive. They know that. We need to show that we're going to work with them to let them partake in the jobs of the future.

We have such an opportunity here, and it is very frustrating to be in opposition and see it absolutely squandered by this government in this budget. Labor is the party that is going to ensure no-one is held back and no-one is left behind. We just heard from the member for Goldstein about how it's all about community and risk taking et cetera. Well, no. It's about giving people the opportunities. Labor is the party of aspiration. Labor is the party that wants people to get ahead, because we want everyone to have the opportunity, not just those who are born with it.