Dec 10, 2020

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – Morrison Government – Thursday, 10 December 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (16:24): Last summer, this Prime Minister wanted to force a handshake on you. This summer he wants to shake you down for your pay. This week he has reminded us, emphatically, that Labor values are very different to the values held by those opposite. They’re in their eighth year and, by the time of the next election, they’ll be shooting for 12 years in government. They have had eight years and three prime ministers—it’s like a bad version of Dr Who. The lead character keeps regenerating: we get a different face, different voice and different shtick, but the values are the same.

 

This Prime Minister is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to cut the wages and conditions of Australians. His proposed changes will allow employers to eliminate penalties, loadings and other conditions simply by claiming they’ve been adversely affected by the pandemic. What thanks to the nurses, the cleaners, the supermarket workers, the childcare workers, the teachers, the truck drivers, the aged-care workers who’ve got us through this pandemic! The Morrison government wants their reward to be a pay cut. The government pretended it was consulting unions and employers. It didn’t mention any of this—not a word—but waited until it was over and then sprung this in the legislation.

 

The bottom line is this. The Labor Party that I lead won’t be supporting legislation that cuts wages and conditions—not now, not ever. For the past few weeks, this announcement-crazy government has been telling Australians that the economy is going gangbusters and that growth is strong. They’re spending millions of dollars telling Australians there’s a comeback but at the same time arguing that businesses are in so much trouble because of the pandemic that they should be allowed to cut wages. Both arguments can’t be right. The characteristics of this government are becoming very clear. There are three themes of this government: (1) they stand for promises, not delivery; (2) they are characterised by waste, rorts and mismanagement; and (3) they leave people behind and hold them back.

 

First, when it comes to announcements and not delivery, the national integrity commission: we’re still waiting. It was announced years ago. And when it comes to funding, the $4 billion emergency response fund: there are still people living in caravans; they haven’t spent a dollar of it. They talk about manufacturing—$1.5 billion—but they’re going to spend three per cent of it this year. Then there’s the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—better known as the ‘no actual infrastructure fund’. In five years they’ve spent $169 million of the $5 billion. But the Water Infrastructure Loan Facility is perhaps the best, because it didn’t get a dollar out the door, just 50 media releases before being abolished.

 

Then there is waste and mismanagement—robodebt: illegal, unjust, cruel, resulting in a loss of lives, literally. The settlement was $1.2 billion, but the government say that that doesn’t amount to a concession that there was anything wrong or illegal. The NBN was obsolete before it was even built, and now they’ve got to go back and fix it, with $4½ billion. The dodgy land deal out at Western Sydney: $30 million for a $3 million piece of land. And then there’s sports rorts. It’ll just keep going. Sports rorts: $100 million based upon a colour coded map, with dozens of emails between Bridget McKenzie’s office and the Prime Minister’s office—colour coded, ripping off those people who, in good faith, had put in applications. This government is producing $1 trillion of debt that will rise up to $1.7 trillion, but they don’t have any reform program.

 

And then we come to leaving people behind and holding people back. Aged-care residents: there will be at least 685 empty chairs around dinner tables at Christmas because this government refused to step up to its responsibility and have a plan specific to aged care in the pandemic. The government had been told by the interim report of the royal commission and still didn’t respond. And there are women and families being left behind when it comes to child care. In the programs rolled out, a million casuals were left behind. And, if you look at the interim report of the disability royal commission, disabled Australians were left behind. University workers and the arts sector were ignored. Workers aged 35 and over don’t get any support. They’re going to lose JobKeeper and they’re going to have their unemployment benefits lowered to $40 a day but they’re going to be excluded from any subsidies or any support whatsoever. Then there are the aviation workers. They’ve lost their jobs only to be replaced by cheaper workers, and this government just gives them a clap. When it comes to leaving people behind, 39,000 Australians have been literally left behind overseas. They’re stranded overseas. Remember, four months ago I said we should be using the RAAF VIP fleets. They said, ‘No, it’s busy.’ But it’s not too busy for Mathias Cormann to fly around Europe, not too busy at all. Those planes could be used right now to bring Australians home, but, once again, they’re leaving Australians behind.

 

So the next election will be a clear distinction between those of us on this side and those on that side. The truth is that we got through the pandemic because of Labor values. Labor values are about looking after each other. Labor values are about the power of government to change lives for the better. But this government’s reverting to type, as we see in the IR legislation. We on this side stand for cooperation; they stand for politics, spin and needless conflict. We stand for understanding the role of government in improving the lives of Australians; they think if government gets out of the way it will all be fine. We see a role for government intervening in the economy in the interests of Australian families. We want the economy to improve not just in itself but so that the economy looks after people, not the other way around. They believe in trickle-down economics, which rains misery on working people. We stand for social and community housing; they look down on people who live in social and community housing. We see taxpayer money as the means through which government can serve the public good; they think it’s Liberal Party money to just slush around as they want. We support cheaper child care; they punish those who want to work more than three days a week. We stand for a future made in Australia, creating jobs and resilience in the process; they dared car manufacturers to leave the country. We stand for an Australian rail manufacturing plan that will trigger a renaissance of rail manufacturing in this country; they stand for importing trains that aren’t fit for purpose and that have to be fixed up here. We stand for creating an Australian skills guarantee with one in 10 workers on government projects to be apprentices; they’ve smashed apprenticeships such that there are 140,000 fewer than when they come to office. We stand for a commitment to zero emissions by 2050; they stand frozen in time while the world warms around them. We have a Prime Minister getting on the phone, begging to be able to speak at a conference this weekend but being dismissed by world leaders. We stand for our future as a renewable energy superpower; they stand still, tied to the past. We stand for respecting and valuing older Australians; they failed older Australians. We stand for transparency and accountability; they stand for Angus Taylor.

 

What we have is a PM obsessed with marketing slogans, more prime marketer than Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister who is always there for the photo op but never there for the follow-up, who is always political and who is wasting the economic recovery. We have a PM who will force a handshake but flee from accountability. Remember this: he is a Prime Minister whose attitude towards responsibility is summed up in that one famous phrase, ‘I don’t hold a hose.’ It’s someone else’s problem. He’s never about fixing it; he’s just about the announcement. (Time expired)