Morrison budget: weak, warped, wasteful

Published on Thu 22 October 2020 11:58am

I defy anyone to point to one notable reform or lasting achievement of this Coalition government. They were elected as the masters of negativity, they set one task for themselves, which was to reduce debt and they’ve comprehensively failed to do that. They doubled it before the pandemic, it will quadruple by the time we get through the pandemic.

Mr Wilson (11:58am) – Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and I’m very glad to speak on the Appropriations Bills in the government’s Budget on behalf of the people of Fremantle. I always feel proud and privileged to represent my community, here and on such an important matter.

For those who are playing at home, the Appropriations Bills are the means by which the government gets the money to pay for its programmes and they’re always important, even if they sound a bit boring. They’ve never been more important than they are right now in 2020. And there’s two reasons for that – the first because we’re facing a global pandemic, a health crisis, that, in turn is having severe economic impacts. And they’re also important because, in response, the government is embarking on a massive programme of borrowing and spending, the likes of which we’ve not seen in my lifetime, the consequences of which will play out for decades.

The brute reality is that you cannot, you cannot borrow and spend this gargantuan quantity of money twice. You cannot. And so you have to get it right. I think most people, even in this early stage after the budget having been handed down know that, unfortunately, it’s not looking very good so far. And it’s not looking very good, because the budget’s falling short of the obvious test that should apply. And that is, will it meet the needs of the Australian community? Will it meet the needs of the Australian community, especially those facing the most acute impacts and the sharpest disadvantage? And will it provide lasting benefits that will carry us through from the survival phase into the recovery, will it shape a stronger, and fairer Australia and unfortunately, we already know that there are so many people in so many sectors that are not having their needs met. And there was absolutely nothing in the budget, I didn’t have high expectations of the budget, but even I was taken by surprise that there was nothing that looks to the medium or long term needs of Australia, nothing that builds on the most important things, which are the things we share – public education, public health, public infrastructure, like transport and community infrastructure, our environment, our biodiversity, that is in crisis and should be protected.

Deputy Speaker, this budget, the Morrison budget, in response to the Morrison recession comes in a time of crisis, not just the pandemic, but the aftermath of Australia’s first National Climate Change disaster in the form of last summer’s unprecedented bushfires, not just the challenges at home here in Australia, but challenges in our region and in our trading relationships, and the budget should respond to those circumstances. And that’s how the government will be judged. There’s lots of ways in which government can be judged and I think in the course of the debate, we’ve heard already, and will continue to hear lots of frames or perspectives or rubrics that seek to establish the basis on which the budget will be judged. Some of them might be a bit critical. That’s what the government will say of us, that we’re being hypercritical. You can be sure that that from the government, some of them will be ultra self-serving. And in fact, we just heard a little bit of that before. But one thing you can’t do, you cannot, as a government do, is walk away from the standards you set for yourself. And this government was elected in 2013 on the basis that they would face up to and face down what they called a debt and deficit emergency. That was a disaster, that was pretty much the only thing that that they said. And they said that over and over again.

Well, they doubled the debt, they doubled the national debt in this country before the pandemic. They presided over stagnant wages, falling productivity, weak growth, and they doubled the debt. That was before the pandemic occurred and Australians know that. They will run a deficit in this year alone that is larger than the net debt they inherited in 2013. And despite the $35 ‘back in black’ mugs, despite the linguistic time travelling of the Prime Minister, who I think said that he and his government had delivered a budget surplus next year, they have not delivered a single surplus and tackling debt and tackling deficit was their one purpose.

That’s the frame they chose for themselves in seeking election 2013. That’s the frame that they have set for themselves at every step of the way and by that standard, they have utterly failed. They have utterly failed.

We came into this crisis with a weak and weakening economy, which will make dealing with the social and economic impacts of this crisis that much harder, but you won’t hear that from this government, and you won’t hear it from speaker after speaker in this debate. The Treasurer in Question Time described it as a ‘ripper of a budget’, a ripper of a budget. A Jack the Ripper, maybe. And I heard the member for Fisher say that it was a sensational budget for every Australian, every single one, 25 million Australians. It’s a sensational budget for every single one. Well, however you might consider that that is some seriously tone deaf, own trumpet blowing right there. To come in at a time of crisis when so many people are facing the most difficult year they’ve ever experienced, to describe it as a ripper of a budget and to say that it is sensational for each and every Australian is pretty rich. It’s pretty rich, and it’s certainly tone deaf.

Does the government really think that the millions of Australians facing these circumstances – a global pandemic, the first recession in 30 years, the sharpest and deepest recession in almost a century – do they really think that people regard what they’ve just announced as being sensational?

People on JobKeeper, who are already seeing that support being withdrawn. And they know that it will be taken away all together, when there are so many sectors of the economy that have not even begun to recover. People in aviation, people in the arts and cultural industries, people in tourism, they’re having that support, the support was delivered too late, they’re having taken away too early.

And then there were all the millions who were excluded in the first place – casuals who had worked less than 12 months, people in local government, people in universities, people in arts and cultural work and businesses. People on JobSeeker, who do not know since the budget was announced what is going to happen to them, and some of the people on JobKeeper currently will be on JobSeeker before too long, you know, more than a million Australians who are going to see their support go down to $40 a day. That is below the poverty level. Do they think that the budget is sensational? They haven’t even been given the certainty of what is going to happen to them in the months to come.

Students in the university courses who know that their fees are about to double in a time of recession. Understandably, young people make a decision, when there isn’t work, when you’ve got massive unemployment, which is already staggering and will grow by a further 160,000 people before Christmas, according to the Treasurer himself, young people sensibly think well, I might as well take this opportunity to try and get some training and some education for my future. Well, in all of these courses in the humanities and some related areas, fees are about to double.

Australians stranded overseas, do they think it’s a sensational budget?

Small and medium businesses in all of the sectors I have mentioned but particularly tourism, arts and culture, transport and logistics, aviation? Do they think it’s a sensational budget?

I don’t think so.

I do want to spend a little bit of time, Deputy Speaker, on the particular circumstances of the workers and small businesses in the arts and creative sector. I’m lucky to come from and to represent a community where arts and creative industries are a strong feature of our life, our personal lives, our cultural life and our economic life.

But this has always been a heroes and villains government and if, if they like you, you get a gift, and if they don’t like you, you get a whack. That’s one thing you know about this government – tax cuts for big business, even if they’re massively profitable, even if they’re based overseas; job cuts for the public broadcaster. If you’re a Liberal donor, and you’ve got a $3 million piece of land, well how about we pay you $30 million instead, how do you like them apples? That’s not too bad.

But if you want to study the humanities, like most of the members of the government, sorry, the cost of your degrees just doubled. And the arts and creative sector has been in the gun for years, thanks to this government. Does that make any sense whatsoever in the 21st century? No. It’s a massive part of our life, a massive part of our economy and it’s going to get stronger, it should get stronger in future. It employs 650,000 people; 53,000 people in Western Australia alone. In 2017, it contributed $111 billion to the economy.

In March as the pandemic hit I Lost My Gig Australia helped take stock of the impact on arts and cultural businesses. Half a million workers were impacted, and in terms of business lost, 240,000 jobs disappeared; $330 million worth of projects disappeared. That was in March. The ABS noted at the end of March that while 90% of all businesses in Australia were still operating to some degree at the end of March only 47% of arts businesses with still operating. It was the worst affected industry, it will be one of the slowest to emerge from the circumstances we now face. But the sector hasn’t been adequately supported by JobKeeper. It was one of those areas of Australian life that was just ignored and neglected by the government. The direct funding announced by the government, as so many of their announcements and so much of their funding doesn’t appear, hasn’t appeared. That’s been true for arts and cultural businesses and their workers, including actually, as far as the sort of the difference between announcement and delivery, including some of the businesses and the people that the government used in their media stunts for the announcements. Some of those people had subsequently put up their hand and say, even we haven’t received the promised funding. It’s just ridiculous.

And rather than make reforms that would be helpful to arts and creative industry, businesses and their workers, the government’s decided in a crisis to take away local content requirements for the screen industry that are essential if we’re to maintain a distinctively Australian cultural sector, to see and hear and learn from and be enriched by an uplifted by Australian voices and Australian stories and Australian songs and Australian films. They have been let down. They’ve been neglected by this government throughout its life. And then they are facing a particularly cold shoulder through the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic. It is appalling.

Deputy Speaker, I said the budget should be judged on how it meets the needs of the Australian community and how it provides long lasting benefits. We know that despite a trillion dollars of debt, there will be millions of Australians left in the cold. To make it worse, the government’s not taking the opportunity to look at areas of longer lasting reform, things that would provide benefits to all of us in the future, notwithstanding this eye-watering gargantuan sum of money that has been borrowed and spent, that can never be borrowed and spent again.

There’s no focus on early childcare or aged care, when we know that care economy is going to be such a big part of our life for, for our own benefit, for our health and well-being but also as a source of jobs and economic activity.

There’s no focus in the budget on modernising our energy supply, not surprising from a government that can’t even settle a National Energy Policy. There’s no focus on social housing. There’s no focus on social housing, despite the difference that makes to the lives of people facing acute disadvantage and the way in which it actually provide stimulus to local economies around the country.

Over the seven years, they’ve presided over the loss of 140,000 apprentices and that’s caused key shortages that we’re now dealing with. Only in the last week or so they’ve finally admitted to themselves that delivering a National Broadband Network using 19th century copper wasn’t such a bright idea. Now it’s going to cost billions more in funding and take years more as they start to turn the ship around and go back to Labor’s policy of delivering fibre.

Deputy Speaker, in a time of crisis that has a number of elements, the pandemic chief among them, but not alone, it’s crucial that government spend wisely. The gargantuan borrowing and spending exercise cannot be done twice. It should be focused on the needs of the Australian community and it should deliver lasting benefits. Unfortunately, the Morrison government’s economic management was weak before the crisis and the Morrison government’s economic response to date has been warped during the crisis so far, not just ignoring huge sections of the community, but ignoring some of the people who need the help the most.

And Deputy Speaker, the government’s response has every appearance of being wasteful, because it doesn’t focus on the delivery of lasting benefits.

So, at every point of the last seven years, you’d struggle to identify a recognisable agenda or positive programme that this government might be seeking to implement.

In fact, I defy anyone to point to one notable reform or lasting achievement of this Coalition government. They were elected as the masters of negativity, they set one task for themselves, which was to reduce debt and they’ve comprehensively failed to do that. They doubled it before the pandemic, it will quadruple by the time we get through the pandemic.

They’ve neglected to do anything in aged care or early childhood education, they’ve made a howling mess of Australia’s broadband network. They’ve been unable to settle on a national energy policy. They have hammered both our vocational and our university education sectors. They’ve waged a cultural and funding war on public broadcasters. They’ve sat on their hands as we face an extinction crisis and the impacts of climate change.

Weak, warped, wasteful – that’s been the record of this government. Unfortunately, it’s a theme they continue with this budget when Australia needs them to do so much better.

Share this article...

Subscribe for updates
Contact Josh