Liberal-National Government taking Australians for mugs

Published on Thu 3 June 2021 11:04am

It’s an instalment of economic mismanagement, and social and environmental neglect that is entirely consistent with the style and substance of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison, dot dot dot government, now into its eight year, now into its third term focused on nothing other than manipulating and spinning and fear mongering its way into another term. Don’t let them do it to you. Don’t let them do it to Australia.

Mr Wilson (11:04am) – These bills—Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2021-2022 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022—and the budget they underpin are consistent with the style and substance of this government, now into its third term after eight years at the wheel. They’re consistent with its style and substance because they show lazy and inept economic management. There’s no appetite for tackling important reform and no capability, in some cases, for even simple administrative competence when it comes to facing up to immediate challenges.

The government will try to pretend—they try to pretend every day in this place and out in the public domain—that the only frame of reference is the past 12 months. They will point to figures in the early part of Australia’s economic recovery, which are positive because they’re part of a rebound from a savage decline. They’ll point to those positive numbers as if the previous eight years never happened, as if all of that lazy and inept economic mismanagement never happened. But the reality is pretty clear, and I think the Australian people see it. The Liberal-National government were elected on the basis of what they described as a debt and deficit emergency, and what they have achieved is an eye-watering level of debt—now a trillion dollars—without anything to show for it. It’s triple the debt that they inherited. Despite what they will do in seeking to lay that at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is they had already doubled that debt before the pandemic occurred. That debt now stands at $40,000 for every single person in Australia, and it’s entirely fair for people in the Australian community to ask, ‘What is there to show for that eye-watering debt?’ The answer is: very, very little.

Unfortunately, this government’s approach to economic management has been a version of The Magic Pudding—or the anti-Magic Pudding. They’ve racked up this incredible debt mountain, yet they have delivered nothing in terms of meaningful reform. If it’s any kind of magic pudding, it’s a bad magic pudding. It’s definitely not a back-in-the-black magic pudding. It’s the magic upside-down cake. They’ve borrowed all this money, which will be the responsibility of Australian households to deal with in future, yet what lasting reform or broad public benefit have we got for it? Absolutely nothing.

People will remember that the government bought the self-congratulatory ‘back in black’ mugs when they pretended they’d secured a surplus, which would occur in the future.

Opposition members interjecting—

Yes, the mugs did turn up; the surplus never arrived. The reality is that they’re taking the Australian people for mugs. They have taken the Australian people for mugs over and over again, and if they can keep getting away with it they will. If they can keep telling porkies to the Australian people and getting away with it, they will.

Labor governments take a different approach. One of the things Labor governments seek to do is to improve the broad circumstances for the Australian population over the long term.

It appears I get to have the last word in this debate on the budget bills. But, really, the last word should go to the Australian people. I think they will sit in judgement on the budget, and they’re right to ask: what does a trillion dollars in debt do for them, other than saddle them with $40,000 that needs to be repaid in the future? They didn’t get the ‘back in black’ mugs; they didn’t get to see the budget brought back into black. Debt has tripled under this government’s watch, and it’s entirely legitimate for people to expect from good government that, when that amount of borrowing occurs, they see something for it.

In the past, good Labor governments have, in instalments, taken us further down the path of progress, egalitarianism and improved, shared wellbeing through the age pension and the creation of Medicare, superannuation, paid parental leave, the national environmental estate and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. All of those things have been delivered as incremental foundation stones of great egalitarianism, fairness and shared wellbeing in this country.

From the Howard government, the Australian people got improved gun laws—and that was meaningful reform—and the GST, which is a regressive tax that impacts people on low and middle incomes more than it impacts people at the other end of the spectrum. I think we will be wanting to watch this government very closely, because I can tell you one thing that happens when a government goes down the neoliberal path of giving tax breaks to big corporates and high-income earners: they create an enduring structural revenue problem that they need to fix. One of the ways that governments like that around the world have sought to fix that is by increasing consumption taxes. I haven’t actually heard from the Treasurer or any government members a commitment that they will not seek to increase the GST in the future. Members of the Australian community should be very, very concerned that that is in prospect, because that’s what neoliberal governments do.

We can think about the examples of challenges that remain to be addressed. One of the things about government is that you’ve got this great opportunity to turn the wheel in a positive direction, to create greater fairness and sustainability in the way that we live in Australia. There are plenty of examples of what to do. It’s not like you have to cast around and say, ‘What on earth could we do with all of this debt that would make a positive difference?’ At a time of parching drought and the worst bushfires Australia has experienced, from this government there has been no action on climate change and insufficient preparation for extreme bushfire events.

At a time when we face an extinction crisis, when we are a world leader in the extinction of mammal species in particular, there has been nothing. There have been 40 per cent cuts to the department of the environment. There are 170 threatened and endangered species for which there are no recovery plans. The government’s Threatened Species Strategy, which came to a conclusion recently, was a failure. It never included any marine species. If you take one of the target areas where they set out to try to deliver improved trajectories for 20 of the most endangered mammal species, they were able to achieve and improve population trajectory for only four of the 20. They claimed that they had delivered an improved trajectory for eight of the 20. But, for four of those eight, the trajectory was improved to the extent that the decline was slower. So there are fewer and fewer of the animals; they’re just not declining at quite the same rate as before. That is what this government has done in an area of environmental crisis. We know, in the aftermath of the bushfires, that the delivery of support for affected communities has been utterly hopeless.

They put $4 billion aside, and they haven’t managed to get a dollar out the door to the people whose houses burnt down, whose properties were razed and who lost stock and business opportunities and all of those kinds of things.

We know that we live in a time when we need to improve productivity and innovation, but what has this government done? It’s cut funding to universities. It has totally abandoned the university sector, thrown its workforce to the wolves and undermined research capacity in this country. You could hardly get a more backward-minded approach than that to one of the great economic challenges we have: productivity.

In the area of energy, we need to increase storage capacity. We need to increase grid function and grid reliability as we move to a distributed form of energy generation. We have pretty much the best wind and solar resources on the planet. Go anywhere else in the world, and they look at what we have in that respect with envy. We have proven energy metal resources. We should be a renewable energy superpower. But again this government hasn’t even been content to just leave things as they were. They’re never going to take things forward. They’re never going to take positive steps with the best interests of the Australian community at the foundation of those kinds of reforms. But it would be nice if they’d just left the relatively good things that have been done in the past alone, but they haven’t. They allowed the Renewable Energy Target to lapse. They seek to abolish and defund ARENA and the CEFC at every turn. If they can’t abolish or defund them, they seek to pervert those agencies so that, even though their purpose is clearly focused on renewable energy, somehow they are enabled to invest in coal, gas and—God forbid!—even nuclear. They have taken, as part of their debt bonanza, $600 million in taxpayers’ funds which they’re now going to apply to a gas plant that none of the regulators say is necessary or will ever have any effect other than to raise energy prices and certainly emissions. They won’t show the business case for that, but they’re happy to pour another $600 million of yours down the chute.

When it comes to the experience of ordinary Australians, we’re living through a prolonged period of falling real wages. Again, the government has done nothing on the positive side. They have actively sought to undermine wages in this country. They were happy to support the cut to penalty rates. They put in place a public sector wage freeze. Those things have the effect of making wages drop further. That affects all Australians all the time. Not content with that, they’re going to try to stymie superannuation. They’re presently having a go at industry superannuation funds in particular, which of course are the most effective and successful superannuation funds for working Australians.

Another area that is crying out for a government to grasp the nettle and do something positive is aged care. The government were in possession of the royal commission report into aged care titled Neglect, which showed that a third of residents are malnourished, that there is overuse of and overreliance on chemical restraints and that, at the end of the day, there simply are not enough hours of care to give older Australians the dignity, quality of life and human engagement that they need and absolutely deserve. The government have an opportunity to do something about that, but they have squibbed that challenge and ignored many of the recommendations.

They’ve particularly ignored the needs of the workforce. It does not take a genius to understand that the best and most appropriate, compassionate, professional, properly resourced and properly enabled care in residential care centres comes from our aged-care workforce, yet they’re among the lowest-paid workers in Australia, and they suffer from uncertain work or insecurity of work. They’re required to work across multiple centres. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional magnifying glass over the top of that, showing how that not only delivers utterly unacceptable circumstances for aged-care residents and the people who care for them but also creates additional COVID risks. The government could have done something to improve wages for aged-care workers and enable aged-care workers to do what they are drawn to do vocationally by their commitment to older Australians and to have the time to provide the care that we would all want for each other and for our family members and that those people should have as, essentially, a basic human right.

The government has done nothing about that they’ve poured money into the system in a way that we can have no confidence will find its way to the workforce.

So, Deputy Speaker, in the end, the Australian people need to ask themselves, what they really expect from the Morison government. What do they expect from the Morison government going forward? If they expect more debt, more debt that will fall on them and their families, they’re not going to be disappointed, because that’s the record of his government. And that’s what this government will continue to deliver.

If they expect more economic hogwash about tax cuts, gifted to profitable and multinational big businesses flowing through in wages – if they expect more of that rubbish – they won’t be disappointed. There’ll be more of that. You can bet on that.

If they expect a hands off approach to protecting the things we share, the most important things – our public health and education system, aged care system, our environment, our workplace conditions – if you expect them to take a hands off approach to those things and to letting them deteriorate or to actively running them down, you will not be disappointed because that’s the record of the Morrison government, and that’s what they’ve done in every one of the eight years that they’ve been behind the wheel.

If you expect more waste, more rorts, more money – your money, taxpayerss money – spent buying overpriced land from Liberal mates, or put into ridiculous boondoggles like the Kurri Kurri gas plant, you won’t be disappointed. That’s what they’ve done every year. That’s what they’ll continue to do.

If you expect the NBN to continue to be run badly, with us falling further and further down the global broadband speed like league tables that will happen all those things, all of them can be depended upon. That’s what this government has produced, day in, day out.

That’s the story of this budget, Deputy Speaker. It’s an instalment of economic mismanagement, and social and environmental neglect that is entirely consistent with the style and substance of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison, dot dot dot government, now into its eight year, now into its third term focused on nothing other than manipulating and spinning and fear mongering its way into another term. Don’t let them do it to you. Don’t let them do it to Australia.

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