Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Bills - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 - Second Reading

May 24, 2021

  (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (17:55): I would like to make a contribution to this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 and cognate bills. From the outset I think we should make it clear that what we have here is a government that's had an abundance of opportunities to take action to drive our economy forward and to help shape the future prosperity of this nation. But that is something we have not seen put materially into effect at all through this budget. Instead, what we have seen is eight years of mismanagement, eight years of Liberal neglect, eight years of flat wages but rising costs, eight years of ignoring the problems and cutting funding to essential services and eight years of holding people back. Simply put, people have been left behind. We've never seen a government that has spent so much to achieve so little. Those opposite can spend $100 billion in one night, rack up $1 trillion of debt and still have working people falling behind. We have a budget predicated on wage cuts. One phrase that none of those opposite have said for some time is 'debt and deficit', and I don't think they'll be saying it for the next 30-odd years. Only those opposite, as I said, could spend that amount of money and yet achieve little.

At a time when people are trying to rebuild from the economic ramifications of this pandemic, Australia needs and deserves far more than what this government is offering. People need a vision for the future: a vision for jobs and school creation, a plan to kickstart the economy not only to get us through this recession but to put us on a path to future prosperity for this nation. What this nation needs is a government that understands community, but more importantly a government that puts the needs of the community ahead of politics. I've heard a few speeches from those on the other side that have talked about how much money has been spent in their electorates, and they're right. Money is being spent in their electorates. There has been pork-barrelling out there. I've got to say that electorates like mine and others represented by Members on this side of the House don't see much coming from this government in terms of furthering the interests of working Australians that we all have an interest in protecting. This government really does need to focus on the national interest.

What we've seen so far is a government that's riddled with corruption, with rort after rort in the way that taxpayers' money is being spent. You have to look no further than the sports rorts or the Safer Communities grants. What about dodgy land deals? Those on the other side must thank God that they don't have an integrity commission as yet.

This style of mismanagement by an elected government is what an integrity commission would be designed to actually prosecute and bring to the public's attention. But it is easy to see where this government's priorities lie. Our economy was already struggling before the pandemic. We had high casualisation of employment, record high underemployment, stagnant wage growth, slow economic growth and low business investment. Rather than addressing these systemic problems, which have only been heightened during the pandemic, this government's response is short-term policy fixes. Their response has been short-term policy to get them through to the next election, rather than a policy that has long-term transformative benefits for our economy and our nation as a whole.

The biggest failing of the budget is no doubt the cut that we see to real wages. This has become a defining aspect of the Liberal's economic plan. It is right there for us all to see in the budget papers. As a matter of fact, the former Finance Minister actually indicated this was a design aspect of their economic plan. We know that the many Australians who are employed are not getting enough hours to pay their bills. They cannot count on regular employment to pay their bills. We know that many Australians are being exploited, underpaid or subject to unsafe work environments and are hostage to insecure work.

One thing that often strikes me in this place is that this government never misses an opportunity to undermine or to criticise trade unions, which are designed just by their very nature to look after workers in employment. That's probably not quite correct. I have heard them refer to Kathy Jackson as being a line of the union movement, holding her up on a pedestal. That was before she was done for corruption. She's facing other judicial issues at the moment. But that was the person that they would have thought was the epitome of a trade union official.

Just remember this: it was former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who made really, really clear the economic plan that this government had set the course to follow. The former Finance Minister said that stagnant wage growth was a deliberate design of the Liberal's economic policy. They actually planned stagnant wage growth. What they didn't plan is that there would be a restraint in terms of cost of living or all those other things that working families have to deal with. It was stagnant wage growth that did this. This is a government that's happy to hold working people back, happy to drive down wages and happy to make life harder for working families. It has become such a problem that Australian families are now facing day-to-day pressures to pay for the basic necessities of life, including rent, childcare costs, fuel and groceries. These are things that weren't planned to be restrained by this government.

My electorate in Western Sydney has been found to be one of the most disadvantaged communities across the nation based on studies conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As matter of fact, the average household income in my electorate is just a little over $60,000 a year. That's not the average income; that's the average household income. Clearly, my community is not rich. But, also clearly, my community can't afford to have this sort of downward pressure put on their household incomes. They are struggling to make ends meet as it is.

What members of my community need and deserve—and, by the way, probably what all Australians need and deserve—is a government that is prepared to look at what's necessary to boost real wages. We on this side understand that it is about increasing the productivity of this nation. That's an integral aspect of economic growth. It seems to me that only a Labor government will stand up for secure jobs, safe workplaces and fair and decent wages.

Let's not forget the approach that this government took to child care. This is a government which failed to provide adequate support to families struggling with the cost of child care. Australians pay some of the highest childcare fees in the world, with fees increasing some 35 per cent under this government's watch. This issue was raised regularly with me by local parents, particularly those who are trying to have greater participation in the workplace and trying to make ends meet. Making child care more affordable is good not only for working families but also for our economy. That's the reason that Labor, business groups, economists and other experts have all agreed that we desperately need childcare reform.

While all would, to some extent, be happy that the government has taken some serious steps in at least identifying it as an issue and throwing some money at it now, by the same token, this is the same government that only last year downplayed the economic benefit of investing in child care. It is little wonder that the end result of all that was that they rushed through a half-baked policy in that regard. Under the policy that they have introduced through their budget, only one in four families will benefit from the new childcare policy, and the budget papers actually show that, under their plan, the workplace participation rate will continue to fall. Labor's childcare policy will not only deliver support to four times the number of families as provided by the government in this regard; it will boost the economic aspects substantially and move towards a universal provision of affordable child care. Not only would that good for all Australian families; that would be sensational for stimulating the Australian economy.

Just remember the mess that this government has made of our aged-care system. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly exposed the vulnerability of our aged-care system. Regrettably, we saw more than 670 people die in aged care during this pandemic. The final report of the Aged-Care Royal Commission found that our system of aged care failed to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our community. The Commission strongly expressed the need for fundamental change in our aged-care sector, making 148 recommendations for reform. While it is pleasing that those opposite have finally realised the need to take action on this very pressing issue, we must remember that this is the same government that, for the last eight years, with their relentless attacks and cuts, left the aged-care sector in crisis. This is the same Liberal government who ignored the warnings of over 20 major reports and ripped $1.7 billion out of the system.

Too many Australians have suffered after years of neglect. So how is it that we're expected to trust the government will fix the aged-care crisis—a crisis that they are actually responsible for creating? This is a government that ignored all advice and recommendations about aged care, staffing levels and pay and conditions for the care workers, and now they want to be congratulated for providing additional home care packages—which, by the way, will not even cover the backlog.

Regrettably, the fact is that people will still die waiting. Our elderly and vulnerable in our communities must be afforded the respect, care and dignity that they deserve and our aged-care workers must be afforded better pay and conditions.

In the time I have left, I want to briefly talk about the issues of homelessness and housing affordability, which unfortunately remain very real issues for many of our communities. These issues are particularly dire in my electorate, which is, as I have indicated before, overrepresented with people living with disadvantage and has a notably higher refugee population than most other electorates.

Research conducted by the University of New South Wales found that my electorate was one of the worst affected, and obviously during the pandemic that has been exacerbated. The idea of security and having a roof over one's head should be available to all Australians. It should be regarded as a basic human right. I'm proud that Labor will address that, just as we did during the global financial crisis. Australia needs to plan to not only get through this recession but to plan for the future. Australia needs and deserves better than what this government is offering.