Parliament – Appropriations Bill

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

I rise to speak on the appropriation bills. Australia is in the deepest recession in a century. We have very difficult economic conditions at the moment. What most Australians were hoping for in this budget was a long-term plan to get us out of this recession. I think most Australians are feeling pretty nervous and worried at the moment about both the health situation and the future economic situation. When they knew the budget was coming up, many would have hoped there would be a long-term plan to create jobs, to support our economy and to get us out of this crisis. Unfortunately, those who tuned in on budget night that Tuesday were severely disappointed. I know many in my electorate were severely disappointed. As Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Labor Party, has said, there were too many people left behind and too many people held back in this budget.

When we look at the Liberal Party having amassed $1 trillion worth of debt and 440,000 Australians losing their jobs to date, I can’t overemphasise what a serious problem this is. Unfortunately, though, the government has done nothing to provide any long-term economic growth plan. What we have is very-short-termism from this Prime Minister and this government, which will not really lead to an economic growth story that will go over years. We’ve seen support prematurely cut for JobKeeper when, even in the government’s own budget, the peak of unemployment has not been reached yet. Yet we have a government that is cutting JobSeeker and has already cut JobKeeper. This is pretty serious, and for so many people this has come far too early. Even in its own numbers, the government has anticipated that 160,000 more Australians will join the unemployment queue by Christmas. This is a pretty difficult time.

Rather than endless press conferences and photo ops from this Prime Minister and this government, and the different fancy names—JobKeeper, JobMaker, JobSeeker, whatever—let’s actually see some action. Let’s see them take it seriously. Let’s see them have a plan for jobs. One of the obvious areas of investment that would create jobs in the short and medium term is infrastructure investment. Not only will it create jobs in the short and medium term; it will deliver long-term economic productivity, if you pick the right projects. Unfortunately, we have seen no new investment from this government into major infrastructure projects in South Australia; South Australia has been left behind again. It could be a very simple thing that the government could do. I have written to the minister for transport, outlining many particular projects. Some projects would provide medium-term jobs, some could be jobs for the next year and others could be jobs for the next three, four or five years. We’ve got rail extensions that could be done. We’ve got roads that could be improved, to make it much easier for people in my electorate to commute.

Unfortunately, the government has not delivered this. It has not delivered what could be a lasting legacy in terms of infrastructure investments. It has been disappointing, as our state continues to shed jobs, that many work opportunities have been lost. You hear rumours that the state government didn’t have any projects worked up so the federal government couldn’t give them money. Stop making excuses! Get on and do your job.

Other elements that have been missed are around investing in stimulating local communities and local infrastructure. I have written to the minister with many, many projects. Unfortunately, instead of projects being delivered right across this country, we had sports rorts, which meant that areas in my electorate missed out on important funding for local community infrastructure because they weren’t deemed to be in a marginal seat. That’s pretty disappointing.

There could have been some really good outcomes delivered. One of the good outcomes could have been the opportunity to support social housing. We had the opportunity in this budget to invest in social housing. The number of people that call me—they live in social housing through life circumstances and they’ve had no opportunity other than to live in public housing—and tell me that they are living with so many problems and difficulties in terms of repair. There are so many problems. This government could have invested and injected money into social housing. That would not only be good for those who live in social housing; importantly, it would have created jobs for tradies. These were job-ready projects that could have been done and would have done so much more in terms of economic stimulation than the failed ‘HomeBlunder’ scheme that the government has had. Really, it is disappointing that the Morrison government has once again squandered a real opportunity to support our tradies in a variety of different trades and to have more affordable housing and more investment in housing. It is incredibly disappointing, especially considering the very narrow take-up, when it comes to this HomeBlunder scheme. It just hasn’t worked. In fact, in September only one person in the entire state of South Australia received a HomeBuilder grant. One person! I could have given a list of houses that could have done with repairs and gone to the public housing stock and actually created real jobs for our tradies and other people involved in the repairs and home-building business.

It’s a sharp contrast to the Leader of the Labor Party’s plan. He has outlined a real plan to stimulate the economy, to support jobs for tradies and to address the maintenance backlog that has been so difficult. It would be good for our economy. Once again, we see the missed opportunities in the Liberal Party’s budget, this short-termism, this lack of leadership in anything meaningful.

Of course—and I’ve spoken about this a lot in the parliament—the budget also seemed to forget 51 per cent of the population, and that’s women. We know that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. There is nothing to support and deal with issues that have been there long before COVID but are going to be exacerbated by the Morrison recession: things such as the superannuation gap that women face, gender pay disparities—there are so many issues. Since March more than 200,000 women have lost their jobs and 110,000 women have left the workforce altogether. This is a really difficult time for many women who had to leave the workforce because they lost their jobs or were taking on caring responsibilities. We’ve seen from this government nothing tangible to support them back into work.

Labor have put out a very clear plan. We don’t want women held back from reaching their potential as the recovery from COVID starts. We’ve announced our Working Family Childcare Boost, which will support many families to deal with the cost of child care. The worst thing out of this pandemic and recession would be if, when the second income earner in a family is offered work, they have to turn that work down because they cannot afford child care. How disappointing would that be? It would not only be disappointing and very difficult for that family but it would be not good for the economy. It is not good for the recovery to have this handbrake on our economic recovery, and that is exactly what the current childcare system is. So we’ve outlined a very clear alternative.

I think a few people might have thought the government had had a change of heart when it came to early education and care, because they announced free child care. They didn’t fund free child care, so they actually required those operators to take the hit during COVID. There was no hit to the government, just a hit to those centres. But of course that was short-lived, and we went straight back to the full fees that were there before the pandemic. The government have dug in now, despite overwhelming criticism that this is not the right time to keep the current system, because it’s not working. The government are digging in their heels, and I can only suspect that it is because the Prime Minister himself designed the current childcare settings and is too proud to admit that they are not working.

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of MPMs RISHWORTH: No, no Office for Women. It was revealed in Senate estimates that the Office for Women did have some input, but they weren’t listened to when it comes to early education and care.

We are looking at really trying to address the workforce disincentive rate, a term that’s come up as a result of how expensive our childcare system is and the way that women are losing money or not making any money because of the cost of child care on the fourth and fifth day. We’ve put forward an alternative. The response from the government is that the current settings are right, and apparently women should be grateful because this budget builds some roads. Well, they can’t be grateful in my electorate, because you’re not building roads in my electorate! You’re not investing in roads in my electorate, so not only do women have unaffordable child care but they actually don’t have any new roads to speak of when it comes to driving. Unfortunately my electorate is missing out again. They don’t get any new roads and they don’t have affordable child care. This really hasn’t been good for women, or men, in my electorate.

What Labor has announced is that we will make child care cheaper for 97 per cent of families. That is our plan for the first three years, and then we are going to look at our very ambitious plan to move to a universal 90 per cent subsidy system, and we’ll be tasking the Productivity Commission to do that work.

In addition to this, we know that a lot of young people have been doing it really tough during this Morrison recession. It’s been a really difficult time and I think we underestimate the hit that young people have taken and the consequences of that. The consequences from the global financial crisis are still being realised by people that were young and just trying to get into jobs during that global financial crisis. They are still having the impact today. That was highlighted by the Productivity Commission. We know that this recession is so much worse, so much more difficult and that this is going to be very hard. And what we’ve seen is the government, during a recession, making it more expensive to go to university, more expensive for young people who perhaps are finishing year 12 and are thinking: ‘I just can’t get a job. I’m going to better myself.’ Well, the government has made it more expensive to go to university. While the hiring credit has been very much lauded by the government as the panacea, Treasury officials have confirmed that, once you put the spotlight on these things, it’s only expected to create 45,000 jobs—just 10 per cent of what the government said it would do. The government claimed 450,000 jobs, but of course it’s only going to deliver 10 per cent of that, if that. We know that the government has a track record of not being able to deliver these types of schemes. We’ve seen that with mature workers, where take-up has been very poor.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this because I don’t think it will deliver even 45,000 jobs. The proof will be in the pudding. You need to watch what the government do, not what they say, because they are so full of spin. They want to turn up at the marketing opportunities, cut the ribbons, puff out their chests and say, ‘Aren’t we doing well?’ The truth of the matter is that they have a problem with delivery and they have blind spots, and this budget does not set Australia up for the long-term.

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