Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP – Bills - Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021 - Second Reading

March 22, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (18:20): I'd also like to make a contribution to this cognate debate today on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021. Have we ever seen a government that has spent so much to achieve so little? At a time when people are grappling with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians need and deserve more—far more than what they're getting from this government. People need a vision for the future, a vision for jobs and a plan to kickstart our economy and get us through this recession. However, what we're seeing beyond this government's spin, photo opportunities and headlines is a trillion dollars of debt and not much to show for it.

Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I invite you to have a think. When was the last time you heard those opposite say anything about debt and deficit? It seems to have gone off the agenda, and it will be off the agenda for the next 30 years. That's not to say that investing was not the right thing to do, but when Labor had to invest during the global financial crisis what was the position on that side? The position was, 'Let's wait to see how bad it gets.' Those were almost the exact words of the then Shadow Treasurer. They weren't going to expend on it. Then they spent the next seven years talking about debt and deficit. Those opposite should wake up and think about the country for a change as opposed to their own political skins.

The reality is that there are too many Australians being left behind. They're being left behind with the government's cuts to JobSeeker, as it plans to do at the end of the month. We will have one million Australians still looking for work. We are seeing a failure in business to invest, with business confidence being shaken, and a failure to invest in actual job creation programs and the creation of aged-care and childcare opportunities. What is really important in a situation like this is investment in social housing. This is what the nation needs—a government that understands community, but more importantly a government that puts the needs of the community ahead of its own political welfare, a government that is focused on the national interest and a government that understands that lives and livelihoods have, quite frankly, been destroyed through this pandemic.

What the nation doesn't need is a government that has been riddled with—I hesitate to use the term 'corruption', but think of the safer community grants, the sports grants, and the distribution of some of those community grants all being linked to either marginal seats or seats which are being targeted. Many on this side have thought, 'That should be one of the reasons we should have a national integrity system'—one which has been talked about by this side and by the Independents. We understand there is some report floating around, but it hasn't reached reality yet. This is what has occurred in terms of the distribution of grants. I'm not going to go out and point the finger over issues of corruption, but where we're disputing public money it must be done in a fair and transparent way. Time and time again we have seen people try to justify the distribution of this money, saying it was very much needed in those marginal Liberal seats. Let's bring on a national integrity system, for the benefit of the public, to ensure that their money is being spent well.

We have a government that, quite frankly, has missed an opportunity to help rebuild this economy and develop a plan for the future of our country that delivers stronger, fairer, more-secure jobs and one that is focused on the future of all Australians—an inclusive future for Australians. It is beyond doubt that our economy was struggling before the pandemic. We had casualisation of the workforce, underemployment was at a record high, we had stagnant wages and we had slow growth and low business investment. They were the economic indicators before the pandemic. It shows that there's a long way to go. Obviously the government didn't bring about the pandemic, and I stand by the comments I've made before: I think the government has handled the pandemic well. I'm not quite as sure about the rollout of the vaccines, but it has handled the pandemic in a very responsible way. That doesn't take away from the fact that the government has got to address those economic indicators that, as I just suggested, were in operation prior to the impact of this pandemic.

Rather than addressing the systematic problems that we have and that have only been heightened by the pandemic, this government has introduced short-term policy that gets them through to the next election rather than policy that is of long-term transformational benefit to the economy and to the nation. With the support due to stop at the end of this month, it is vital that the government put in place a plan to tackle the current jobs crisis, particularly for the two million Australians who are searching for work or for additional hours. Treasury estimates that 100,000 Australians may lose their jobs when JobKeeper is abolished. To put that in perspective, in my electorate alone it is estimated that 2,300 businesses will be directly affected. That accounts for more then 7,000 workers who will be impacted. Further, recently released data reveals that Fowler will be the third-worst affected area in the nation under the Morrison government's proposed cuts to job support.

The end of JobSeeker payments will see a devastating impact on my community, which is already over-represented in disadvantage. As I've spoken about many times in this House, Fowler is, regrettably, one of the most disadvantage-affected electorates, certainly based on the ABS statistics, when applying the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas data. While I'm very proud of my community—the colour and the vibrancy that its diversity delivers—sadly, my community is not wealthy. We are over-represented in disadvantage. To put a figure on it, for those opposite, the average household income in my community is just a little over $60,000—that is household income. So, withdrawing the JobSeeker payments, the coronavirus supplement and JobKeeper directly impacts in such a vicious way in my community. The last month's data that was released by the Department of Social Services also details the added strain that the removal of JobKeeper payments will have on my community. The Guardian Australia found that the hardest-hit areas will be the working class suburbs and regional communities. In that analysis, Fowler was ranked as the third most affected area, losing up to $3½ million per fortnight.

For many, this support has been a lifeline. The removal of the remaining coronavirus supplement at the end of the month will only further add to the hardship. The removal of support at such a critical time for Australians is, quite frankly, a national shame. We have people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head and put basic food on the table, and yet we've got a government that thinks an increase of $50 a fortnight to the Newstart rate simply does the job. Well, I tell those opposite that this increase is not sufficient and it is an insult to those people who are facing the difficulty of getting by on a day-to-day basis.

The government also fails to provide adequate support for families struggling with the cost of child care. Australians are paying some of the highest childcare fees in the world at the moment, with childcare fees increasing by 35 per cent under this government's watch. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many families having to choose between working for nothing and staying at home. Families are being locked out of the system because they simply can't afford it. The issue is raised regularly with me—as no doubt is the case with probably every Member here—by local parents. Making child care more affordable is not only important for families but also important and good for our economy. It is for this reason Labor, business economists and experts have all been calling for urgent childcare reform. This reform is important now more than ever as we work our way out of the pandemic, with many parents having to adjust to reduced income and stressed employment opportunities.

Let's not forget the government's involvement in the current aged-care crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exposed vulnerabilities in our aged-care system, where we have regrettably seen more than 670 tragic deaths. Remember what the interim report from the Aged Care Royal Commission was called, the Royal Commission that the government was taken, kicking and screaming, to hold. The interim report was titled Neglect. The final report, only recently handed down by the Commission, which made 148 recommendations, has found that our system of aged care fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable elderly Australians. The Commission has also expressed the need for fundamental change in our aged-care sector. While it's pleasing that the government actually did make an immediate response and injected money into the system as a consequence of the recommendations, we must remember that this is the same government, the same mob who, over the last eight years, relentlessly attacked the aged-care sector, making several significant cuts, leaving the aged-care system in crisis. It was the Liberal government that ignored the warnings of over 20 major reports and proceeded to rip $1.7 billion out of aged care simply to prop up failing budgets. Too many Australians have suffered after years of neglect. It must be getting hard to put trust in the government that says it's going to fix aged care but has taken step upon step along the way to do the exact opposite. What should be bipartisan here is that our elderly and vulnerable must be afforded the respect, care and dignity that they deserve and a system that caters for that.

I often speak about homelessness and housing affordability across the nation, particularly in my area. In my area, it is certainly something where we have, as I said earlier, an overrepresentation of disadvantage. Notably, we are one of the highest recipients of refugees in the nation. Research conducted by the University of New South Wales under the Everybody's Home campaign shows that 44 per cent of households in Fowler are living with rental stress. The research found that there are also 1,700 people experiencing homelessness in Fowler and an additional 5½ thousand social housing properties are in critical shortfall. That has young people couch surfing, people living in cars and all that sort of thing. And this is happening under our watch in a modern society.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the issue in my community and indeed across the nation but, unfortunately, this area doesn't seem to be deserving of the attention of those opposite. To this end, I'd like to thank the incredible organisations that work so hard to help people in such desperate need. One of those is Tracy Phillips and Bonnie Support Services, which has seen increased demand during the pandemic for emergency accommodation, largely stemming from domestic violence and matters unfortunately escalated during the pandemic. We also take the opportunity to call on the government to invest in social housing, which we know on this side can be a powerhouse for lifting the economic growth and the creation of jobs in the country.