BILLS – Budget in Reply – Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021 – Second Reading – Thursday, 8 October 2020
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the Opposition) (19:31): My fellow Australians, we live in a great country. Amidst all the chaos and hardship that has shaken our world in 2020 there is nowhere you’d rather be. The credit for that, as always, doesn’t belong to the politicians here in this chamber tonight; it belongs to you, the people of Australia. We’re coming through this pandemic because of your hard work; your sacrifices; your sense of community; your willingness to put not just your friends and neighbours but people you have never met and probably will never meet ahead of yourself; and your values, Australian values. We look after each other. It’s that spirit and those values that should define what happens next, because the challenge—and the opportunity—facing us now is not just a matter of getting things back to the way they were; we have to aim higher than that, strive for so much more than that. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild our economy and our country for the better, to launch a recovery that delivers a stronger, fairer and more secure future for all Australians.
This budget fails the test. The budget reflects the government’s character of being guided by short-term politics rather than long-term vision. Our economy was already struggling coming into the crisis—slow growth, flat wages, declining productivity, business investment going backwards and a doubling of debt. Now they are cutting wage subsidies, are slashing unemployment benefits and have no plan for child care, aged care or social housing.
This budget leaves people behind. Women have suffered most during the pandemic but are reduced to a footnote. The best the government can offer is that they can drive on a road. If you’re over 35, you’ve certainly been left behind. This week your wage subsidy was cut. In March your wage subsidy disappears. If you’re then unemployed, you will get $40 a day and be forced into poverty. Then you will compete to get a job with people who will have their wages subsidised. It’s a quadruple whammy from the Morrison Government. The Morrison recession will be deeper and longer because of this budget.
I was brought up to look on the bright side. My mother, Maryanne, was a great optimist. She was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and other health conditions that meant constant pain and often long stints in hospital. She was a single mum who raised me in public housing and relied on what was then called the invalid pension, which is now known as the disability pension. She did it tough, but she always had a smile on her face. She never complained about her lot in life. One of her favourite sayings was: ‘There’s always someone doing it tougher than you.’ Like every Australian parent, her greatest aspiration, and the reason for all her sacrifice, was to make sure that her child had a better quality of life and greater opportunity than she enjoyed.
That aspiration for others has been on full display in 2020: volunteers fighting bushfires; healthcare workers fending off a pandemic; cleaners, supermarket workers and truckies working around the clock to keep our economy going; teachers redefining education, practically overnight; farmers and regional communities who had already copped drought and bushfires; small businesses reinventing themselves, and locals backing them in; trade unions agreeing to temporarily put aside hard-fought industrial gains to maintain jobs and keep businesses going; public servants reminding us of the honourable profession that they belong to—Australians rallying to help each other through tough times.
But, if this crisis has reinforced what we know is good about our country, it has also revealed what is wrong with our economy. The budget figures tell the story: an end to three decades of economic growth; a million unemployed, with 160,000 more by Christmas; $1 trillion of debt; debt, which had already doubled under this government, now four times that which the coalition inherited.
And there were the damning silences. Too many Australians are in insecure work—the first to be laid off, with low wages and few entitlements—and this budget said nothing about that. Too many women are shut off from economic opportunity, earning less and retiring with less, and this budget said nothing to change that. Too many family budgets are being pushed to breaking point by the cost of child care, and this budget said nothing to help with that. Too many older Australians, who built this great nation, are being treated without the respect and dignity they deserve. Too many older Australians are lonely prisoners of a broken aged-care system. Facilities are run for the highest profits at the lowest standards. A care economy workforce in child care, aged care and disability care is overworked and underpaid, and Tuesday’s budget said nothing and did nothing about that. How can the government push the national debt to $1 trillion, yet leave these fundamental problems unresolved?
Tonight, as Labor leader, I want to outline how we can change this for the better—how we can emerge from this crisis with a stronger economy and a fairer society. The pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness, security and the power of government to change lives for the better are the right values in a crisis. They are also the right values for the recovery. Throughout this crisis, my colleagues and I have been constructive. As the party that led Australia safely through the global financial crisis, we understand that, in the middle of an emergency, the priority is on urgent action.
Still, we sought to make improvements, including arguing for wage subsidies, which the Prime Minister first rejected as ‘very dangerous’. We wanted casuals, universities and the arts to be included. This would have saved tens of thousands of jobs. We warned of the damage caused by a smash and grab on superannuation, forcing desperate people to raid their own retirement savings while they waited for support to arrive. We called for telehealth and mental health support. We backed the trade unions’ call for the government to introduce a national scheme of paid pandemic leave so no-one had to choose between turning up to work sick and putting food on the table.
Our constructive approach contrasts with that of the coalition during the GFC. It voted against the Rudd government’s major economic stimulus to protect jobs and complained about the debt it inherited, which was one-quarter of the debt created by the Morrison government. The only legacy delivered by this budget is trillion dollar debt. It’s a reform desert. The decisions in this budget should be about setting Australia on a course for the next decade and beyond. And when those decisions are wasteful, unfair, short-sighted or just plain wrong, then it’s not the government who pays in the long run; it’s the whole country.
Just have a look at the NBN. The Liberals have wasted years trashing Labor’s plan for high-speed broadband delivered by fibre to the home and business. They went out and bought 50,000 kilometres of copper—literally enough to wrap around the entire planet—so they could build a slow, third-rate network that was out of date before it started. Now, at a cost of $4.5 billion, they’ve got to fix up the mess that they created. Instead of leading the world on internet speed, business connectivity and online learning, Australia is playing catch-up.
If we’re going to come out of this recession stronger and fairer, then our country needs a plan to ensure that no-one is left behind and no-one is held back. Our plan to take Australia from recession to recovery is this: rehire our workers, rewire our economy, recharge workforce participation of women and rebuild our nation.
Labor knows that education is the key to opportunity. Our schools, TAFE and vocational education, and universities are vital national institutions. And making sure a quality education is accessible and affordable for every Australian doesn’t just open doors of opportunity for individuals; it makes us a smarter, more productive and more future-ready country. Investing in education needs to begin at the beginning—with quality child care. We all know how much our kids change, learn and grow before they’re at school. Ninety per cent of human brain development occurs in the first five years of life—an extraordinary figure. What children learn at child care is so vital for giving our kids the best possible start. But the current system of caps, subsidies and thresholds isn’t just confusing and costly; it actually penalises the families it’s meant to help. Right around Australia, instead of child care supporting families where both parents want to work, the costs—and the tax system—actively discourage this. And, as is too often the case, it’s working mums who cop the worst of it. For millions of working women, it’s simply not worth working more than three days a week. This derails careers, it deprives working women of opportunities they’ve earned and it costs workplaces—not just day-to-day productivity but years of valuable knowledge and skills that have been built up.
If I’m elected Prime Minister, I am going to fix this. Tonight, I announce that a Labor government will, from 1 July 2022, remove the annual cap on the childcare subsidy, eliminating once and for all the disincentive to work more hours. We will increase the maximum childcare subsidy to 90 per cent, cutting costs for 97 per cent of all families in the system. We will order the ACCC to design a price regulation mechanism that will ensure that every taxpayer dollar flows directly through to savings for Australian families. This is what real reform looks like. It will boost women’s workforce participation, boost productivity and get Australia working again.
Building a childcare system that works for families will turbocharge productivity in workplaces, delivering a much-needed boost in economic growth of, conservatively, $4 billion a year. For me, the principle is very simple: early education is vital for children’s future. And child care is an essential service for families, but as well for the economy. So our long term goal, and the mission we will set for the Productivity Commission, which will be asked to report in the first term of a Labor government, is to investigate moving to a 90 per cent subsidy for child care for every Australian family. This is not a welfare measure. This is economic reform. Labor created Medicare—universal health care. We created the NDIS—universal support for people with disability. We created superannuation—universal retirement savings for workers. And, if I am Prime Minister, I will make quality, affordable child care universal, too.
This global pandemic has exposed the terrible damage seven years of Liberal government has done to Australian manufacturing. I don’t want our country to always be the last link in a worldwide supply chain. My vision is for us to have the skills and smarts and people and industry to make things here and sell them on the global market. So, tonight I want to talk about Labor’s plan for a future made in Australia, a mass mobilisation of resources, an across-the-board strategy for job creation, training and skills, lower energy prices, infrastructure, government purchasing, manufacturing and construction—a plan to grow our economy out of this recession and build for the future, too. The first policy that I announced when I was in Perth, as Labor leader, was to build on the success of the Infrastructure Australia model that I created and create Jobs and Skills Australia. This is about joining up the needs of our economy now with training opportunities for the future. We have a shortage of nurses, welders, bricklayers, hairdressers and engineers. Yet, under this government, there are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees doing courses than there were seven years ago. We want to equip every Australian with the skills for a good, secure job and we want to make sure that every employer has access to a well-trained Australian workforce. Right at the heart of our plan for skills and training is the great institution of public TAFE.
But there is more that government can and should do. Every year, the Commonwealth spends billions of taxpayer dollars on building and upgrading roads, maintaining railways and repairing bridges. To deliver maximum public value for money, Labor will create an Australian Skills Guarantee. On every major worksite receiving federal government funding, one out of 10 workers employed will be an apprentice, a trainee or a cadet. These commonsense measures will train tens of thousands of workers.
We will also consider how this principle can be extended to federal government subsidised sectors, like aged care, disability care and child care, in co-operation with providers. And we’ll bring the same approach to Defence acquisitions. Over the next decade, there is $270 billion of Defence spending on the books. These investments in national security should also deliver a dividend for national skills, training, research and manufacturing. A Labor government will implement concrete rules to maximise local content and local jobs. At best, the Liberals’ approach is all over the shop when it comes to Australian content. Remember when one of this Liberal government’s defence ministers said that he wouldn’t trust Australians to build a canoe.
Australians will never forget that it was this government that drove Holden, Ford and other car makers out of Australia, taking tens of thousands of jobs in auto manufacturing, servicing and the supply chain with them. This wasn’t just dumb and devastating in the short term. Cutting down the Australian auto industry also cut Australia off from the next round of opportunities, dealing us out of a new wave of technology that could have been made in Elizabeth and Altona and Geelong but instead is being made in Detroit and Tokyo.
It’s the same at a state level. Liberal governments consistently say that we can’t build trains here, yet the ones they’ve bought from overseas have been too long for our stations, too narrow for our tracks or too tall for our tunnels. Last December, I visited the Downer EDI site in Maryborough, Queensland where skilled Aussie workers are refitting rail carriages purchased from overseas by the former Newman LNP government. This work is being done in a factory that’s been proudly building trains and employing Aussies since the 19th century. Our country has the skills, the experience and the know-how. What’s missing is a government that believes in manufacturing and has a plan to deliver. Tonight, I announced that a Labor government will create a national rail manufacturing plan. We will provide leadership to the states and work with industry to identify and optimise the opportunities to build trains here in Australia for freight and for public transport.
Labor will invest in the skills, research and training to kickstart the next generation of Australian manufacturing jobs, and we’ll deliver the affordable, reliable energy to power industry into the future. The Liberals have had 22 energy policies in eight years, and all they have to show for it is higher electricity prices and higher emissions. Australia can do so much better. We can be a renewable energy superpower, with clean energy powering a new era of metal manufacturing and hydrogen production. Labor has a clear target to tackle climate change: net zero carbon pollution by 2050. Every state and territory government—Labor and Liberal—supports this goal. The Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Energy Council and the National Farmers Federation all agree on it. Qantas, Santos, BHP and a host of other major companies all back it too—everyone but the Morrison government, which is frozen in time while the world warms around it.
Of course, there is a lot more we can do right now to make energy more affordable. The truth is that Australia’s electricity network was designed for a different century—a bit like copper and the NBN—a time when solar panels ran pocket calculators, not the one in four households that currently have rooftop solar. The current network takes no account of the rise of renewables as the cheapest new energy source and doesn’t help link up these new sources to the national grid. A Labor government will tackle this head-on. We will establish a new rewiring the nation corporation to rebuild and modernise the national energy grid. By using the Commonwealth’s ability to borrow at lower interest rates, it will be done at the lowest possible cost. The projects needed to rebuild the grid have all been identified in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan. The planning work is done. Rebuilding the grid will create thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia, and deliver up to $40 billion in benefits. Fixing transmission is technology neutral and will allow the market to drive least-cost new energy production.
Reforming child care, rebuilding the national energy grid and revitalising Australian manufacturing are at the heart of Labor’s plans for job creation over the next decade, but, in the middle of the first recession in 30 years, we know Australia needs a plan to create jobs right now. One of the fastest ways to lift economic growth and get tradies back on the tools is to invest in social housing. There are 100,000 social housing dwellings around the country that are in urgent need of repair. The roofs leak, they’re full of mould or damp and the plumbing isn’t up to scratch. If these were MPs’ offices, they’d be fixed overnight. These are people’s homes, and they’re a job-creation plan that is ready and waiting in every city and town. Tradies could be ordering from suppliers today and be on site tomorrow. The pipeline of work doesn’t stop at existing houses that need fixing; there are new houses that need to be built too. Almost 200,000 Australians are on waiting lists for social housing.
I grew up in public housing. I know that, when you don’t have much, having a roof over your head provides security and makes all the difference to your life. So many economists have identified investing in social housing as the best way to provide immediate stimulus to the economy. It would create thousands of jobs in construction and the trades and, just like for my mum, it would give thousands of people a better life.
The pandemic has exposed Australia’s vulnerability. This has particularly impacted the elderly, with more than 670 tragic deaths in aged care, in a system that was described by the royal commission, in the one-word title of the interim report issued last year, as neglect. This budget has done nothing to address this neglect and nothing to ensure that aged-care residents have enough nurses, carers and other staff, which they need and deserve. The royal commission declared last week that there was still no plan for aged care.
It’s also the case that our pandemic preparedness was poor. The last time we had a best-practice national pandemic preparedness exercise, it was run by the Rudd government back in 2008. A Labor government will establish an Australian centre for disease control to bring us into line with other advanced economies. We’re the only country in the OECD that doesn’t have one.
On Tuesday night, Australia needed a plan to seize the economic opportunities of the next decade. We are, after all, located in the fastest-growing region of the world in human history. Instead, we got an incoherent grab bag, fixated on the photo opportunities of next week. That’s the defining flaw of this government and this Prime Minister. They think an announcement is an end in itself—always there for the photo-op, never there for the follow-up. We see it time and time again.
Remember the ‘back in black’ mugs they were selling last budget, ahead of delivering the biggest deficit in Australian history? I think they picked the wrong AC/DC song. The mugs should have said ‘dirty deeds done dirt cheap’. Just look at the waste and the grift and the pork-barrelling exposed by the Australian National Audit Office, which has had its funding cut in this budget, as payback. There’s the sports rorts scandal, the $30 million paid for airport land that was worth just $3 million, and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation arriving at a meeting and walking out with more than $400 million they didn’t ask for, and, two years after announcing they would support a national integrity commission, the legislation is as visible as a Morrison government surplus. A Labor government will deliver a national anticorruption body to restore faith in our democracy.
In seven years, the gap between what they’ve promised on infrastructure on budget night and what they’ve delivered is nearly $7 billion. They turn up, they turn over the first sod, and years later weeds are growing on the empty lot. In spite of a budget drowning in red ink, there were no new, game-changing infrastructure projects funded. As Australia’s first ever infrastructure minister, I know what a missed opportunity this budget represents.
Then there’s the Emergency Response Fund. This $4 billion fund was created in the aftermath of the catastrophic bushfires, with $200 million available each financial year from last year, 2019-20. It’s for recovery as well as resilience in the lead-up to bushfire seasons and other natural disasters. Not a dollar has been spent, not one. This week I spoke to Zoey Salucci in Cobargo. The Prime Minister should remember her. She was the young pregnant woman who had lost her home and asked for more help for the Rural Fire Service. She was reluctant to shake his hand. Zoey’s son, Phoenix, turns six months old this week. It’s a great name. He was named after the Greek mythological bird that obtains new life by rising from the ashes. When Phoenix was born, Zoey and her husband and their two-year-old daughter, Uma, were still living in a van. She despairs that so many of her community are still living in temporary caravans on land that is yet to be cleared and yet the $4 billion funding announced remains untouched. That’s why the true test of this budget isn’t this week’s headlines. It’s not the rhetoric or the promises; it’s whether money reaches the people who need it.
Australia is at a crossroad. It’s not of our choosing, but the choices we make could change everything. This is an opportunity to reset and renew. There was a time when the average wage let you buy a house and when secure jobs with sick pay were the norm. That was before the balance tipped so far one way that ordinary people were left vulnerable. Let’s use this opportunity to get the balance right again. Let’s put security back into work so that people don’t have to choose between their bank account and their health. Let’s transform child care so that it’s affordable and accessible to every family. Let’s fix our aged-care system so that it’s driven by dignity and care, not profit.
The choices we make now will define who we are in the future, so ask yourself what sort of country you want. Do we want to return to the same work insecurity, the same cuts to TAFE and universities, the same second-rate services for the bush and the same stale arguments over climate change? I want us to do better. I want a country that makes things and that creates wealth and shares it. I want a country where the next generation inherit opportunity and prosperity, not debt and doubt. I want a country which respects our farmers and miners in the regions and our cleaners and musicians in the cities. I want a country that respects those who’ve come across the sea to enrich our society. I want a country that recognises the privilege that we have of being a part of the world’s oldest continuous culture and recognises First Nations people in our Constitution and gives them a voice to this parliament. I want a country where, when the going gets tough, government is on your side. That’s the Australia I believe in. That’s the better future I want us to build together.
The year 2020 has been the year from hell, but during this calamity we learnt a lot about ourselves and about each other. A man called Tom Uren was the closest person in my life I had to a father figure. Tom fought in World War II. He spent his 21st birthday as a Japanese prisoner of war on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway. He never talked much about what he went through, but he always said that Australians survived because of a simple code: the healthy looked after the sick, the strong looked after the weak and the young looked after the old. Those values are at the heart of what it is to be an Australian, and those values are why I’m optimistic about our country’s future.
Just as our people have rallied to each other and risen to the challenges of this pandemic, I know Australians can seize the opportunities of the recovery and can seize the chance to rebuild and renew our country. But people can’t do it on their own. My mum battled a ton of adversity to give me opportunities that she never had, but government played a part too. It put a roof over our head. It gave me an education and a start. That’s why I want to be Prime Minister. It’s because I know that government has the power to break down barriers of disadvantage and to change lives for the better. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And that’s what Labor’s plans are all about: creating jobs for today, and training our people for tomorrow; making quality child care a right for all, not a luxury for some; rebuilding our manufacturing sector; and powering our recovery with clean energy. Tonight, I’ve talked about how we can make this once-in-a-century crisis the beginning of a new era of Australian prosperity and Australian fairness. With the right plans, the right policies and the right leadership, I truly believe our country can make this moment our own. With strength and fairness we can beat this recession, we can launch a recovery and we can build a future where no-one is held back and no-one is left behind.