At the centre of this budget is the real scam being pulled on Australian workers - that real wages, under this government, will go backwards in the next four years.
Federation Chamber- 25 May, 2021
This is a debate about the budget bills giving the government $142 billion to spend next financial year. The budget confirms that the Liberals are on track for $1 trillion of debt, but there has been nothing to show for it in eight long years. The Prime Minister likes to pretend he's all shiny and new and he's running for his second term. This is an eight-year-old government with a budget that's just a marketing exercise. There are no real plans outlined in the budget, no actual reform. There's just spraying money around to fix the Prime Minister's political problems that he's created in his eight years in government.
Aged care? We hear a lot about aged care. It's budget is about one-quarter of what is needed. It doesn't implement the royal commission's recommendations. There is no actual reform that will see wage rises for aged-care workers or quality staff ratios. There's no guarantee that even the little pittance that was put through will flow through to food for people in aged care to eat. There is nothing in the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-22 and the other budget bills that's actually going to reduce the waiting times for home care. My office is inundated, day after day, with calls made by desperate families needing high-level homecare packages. There is none of that. There's just a failed ad man with $100 billion of new spending and $1 trillion of debt.
But at the centre of this budget is the real scam being pulled on Australian workers—that is, in this budget real wages under this government will go backwards in the next four years. I mean, how do you rack up $1 trillion of debt, $100 billion of new spending over the next four years, $142 billion of spending next year, and have real wages in this country go backwards? That gets a gold medal for a special kind of incompetence. The government says about wages: 'Well, it's COVID. We're doing the best we can.' That's rubbish. It is a deliberate design feature of Liberal economic management. The facts don't lie. Have a look at what happened to wages in this country before COVID. From 2013 to 2019—this is OECD data—real wages in Australia fell. In 2019, real wages in Australia were 0.7 per cent lower than when this mob were elected in 2013, and they've just handed down a budget with $1 trillion of debt that's going to see real wages go further backwards.
In 2019, Australia sat in third-last place out of every developed country in the OECD—before COVID. They had managed to push wage rises down to the bottom of the developed world. It's no accident they have opposed the minimum wage increase year after year. They cut penalty rates—they took delight in cutting penalty rates, voting against it about 27 times. Last week they snuck a dodgy little announcement out that's slowly but surely converting the international student visa into a cheap labour visa. And, for the eighth year in a row, they have refused, as a government, to index the minimum salary that employers have to pay to bring low-skilled migrants into this country. You can see the data. If you come in as a low-skilled migrant on a meat labourer agreement, you are not paid $1 more on average than you were eight years ago. It's the same with labourers and personal care workers.
It is not an accident that wages are going backwards; it's the deliberate point of Liberal economic management. No. 1 on the Liberal Party's real political agenda is to boost the profit share of big business in this country by reducing the wages share. That's who funds them. That's actually the point of the Liberal Party. All the aspiration stuff is just marketing spin. They exist to boost the profit share of business by reducing the wages share, trashing working conditions and superannuation, and that's what this budget locks in—that is, lower wages.
It also shows they're bankrupt ideologically. They don't stand for anything anymore. At least John Howard and Tony Abbott had some beliefs. I didn't like them, but you could point to them, and they were broadly consistent. This shapeshifting failed marketing guy we've got as Prime Minister was sacked from Tourism Australia. He left the Tourism New Zealand body under a cloud a year before his contract was up. He has no plans for the future, just a plan to sneak through the election by spraying a bit of money around to fool people into thinking that, after eight years, he's fixing the messes that he's created. It's just brand propaganda that they're good economic managers; the data does not back it up. This budget makes that clear to anyone who reads the charts. We've had 30 years of lectures from them on how they oppose fiscal stimulus, oppose budget deficits, oppose public debt, oppose investment in urban infrastructure. We had decades of Liberal governments refusing to fund urban rail in this country because, apparently, it was bad. We've had them kick the car industry out of Australia, opposing Australian manufacturing and saying the market will decide.
Their budget figures themselves—the graphs, the charts and the numbers in this budget—expose, in black and white, eight years of incompetent economic management. Take the debt. The Liberals now record five times the net debt of the last Labor government. Of course, it would be a lot less without their rorts and their slush funds, which are built into this budget, and the $1 billion of taxpayer funded advertising. They've spent $1 billion of taxpayer money on ads since they got elected.
Take JobKeeper: billions of dollars to profitable businesses. Not just profitable businesses but businesses that actually increased their profits during the pandemic have received billions of dollars of taxpayer largesse from this mob—these great economic managers—who have put it on the national credit card. Apparently Labor debt is bad but Liberal debt is good. We'd be causing congestion in the big cities if they had the debt truck out, wouldn't we! It would be like a freight train. There wouldn't be enough little trucks to glue on the back, with all the zeros. The deficit is seven times as big as it was under the last Labor government, and there's nothing to show for it.
There's nothing in my electorate—not one single election commitment. All the pork went down the road. There's nothing for the most disadvantaged community in the whole of Melbourne. In a city of five million people, for the most disadvantaged council area there's not one dollar from this mob. Family violence is through the roof. It's the highest in the state in the south-east of Melbourne. Do you think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that from the minister's $60 million family violence slush fund we got anything for new housing for women and children facing homelessness? No. We got absolutely nothing.
The last Labor government, with much lower debt and a much lower deficit, at least left a legacy. We built the National Broadband Network, which this mob stuffed up. We left 20,000 social housing units—they're still there today. We created an asset for people to live in. Education infrastructure, urban transport infrastructure—we left a legacy. What has this government actually done?
Let's just go back to debt. When we left government, federal net debt in Australia was 11 per cent of the OECD average. This mob have got to 36 per cent, and it's going to touch 45 per cent. That's what their budget papers say. But that's not because of COVID. Two-thirds of the debt in this budget was borrowed by the Liberals before the pandemic. They more than doubled the national debt before COVID. This budget, if you read it, exposes the hypocrisy of the fear and scare campaign they've run for years.
There's tax. We hear about taxes all the time in question time: 'We're for lower taxes!' This budget locks in a tax hike for Australians on modest incomes—but after the election. They'll just kick that little can down the road till after the election. The Treasurer is saying: 'Well, you know, the offset will have to end sometime.' It's a temporary tax break for average income earners, yet the highest income earners in the country enjoy a permanent tax cut—forever. That's point No. 2 of Liberal economic management: deliver tax cuts for those who need them least and pay for them by undercutting and underfunding income support and spending for struggling families, child care, pensions, health, education and aged care. That's the point of them: boost profits to big business, cut the share of the economy going into people's pockets through wages, and then cut taxes for the top end and raise taxes at the bottom end. That's what this budget does, in black and white. Those opposite exist to protect those who already have wealth—to keep wages low and to protect those who already have the most.
There's infrastructure. We actually heard the previous speaker say, 'Infrastructure is standard in a coalition budget.' That's what he said; I wrote it down. We've had eight long years of the nonsense marketing scam where in every budget they announce projects that they don't actually build. They pretend to deliver infrastructure, budget after budget. The Prime Minister goes out with that idiotic grin, the hard hat and the thumbs up, honking the horn in the truck. 'It's a hundred billion dollars'—we heard that last year. 'It's a hundred billion dollars'—we heard that again. But it's a scam.
Last week in Victoria they quietly announced—when they thought there was a bigger announcement coming, they buried it in the paper. 'Actually, you know those railway station car parks we promised around Melbourne? Well, we're not going to build them any more. It's too hard.' They announced it. They campaigned on it. They put the leaflets out, but they're not going to actually build them. Thompsons Road in south-east Melbourne? 'Oh, we're not actually going to fund that duplication and extension. It's too hard.' But my favourite is that the member for Hindmarsh has told us about the north-south corridor in Adelaide. There is one little bit of the north-south corridor that got built. It was because Albo, the Leader of the Opposition now, when he was the infrastructure minister announced it and funded it in 2012, and it was finished. I think Tony Abbott turned up to the announcement and took the credit for it, but it was a Labour government that funded it. But this government, the Liberals, have announced this project eight times, eight budget in a row. They've never built it; they've just announced it. They announced it again two weeks ago. Except they say, 'We will start it in 2023, and it's going to take 10 years to build.' Eight times they've announced it, but now they say they'll start it in two years and take another 10 years. It's a joke.
If you read the numbers, though, this budget cuts infrastructure funding. It's in the tables in black and white. They're cutting infrastructure funding by $3.3 billion. But they're out there in the hard hats with the shovels, with the shovels, with the fluoro vests on. It's a marketing scam, and this government is led by a failed ad man. You can't believe anything they announce. Remember the centrepiece of last year's budget, JobMaker? JobFaker! The Prime Minister told us it was going to create 450,000 jobs. It created 1,000, and they've dumped it this year. They see government as a never-ending marketing exercise not to leave a legacy but just to stop us getting in and doing anything, like Medicare, the disability scheme, universal superannuation, the world's first disability pension in 1908. We called it an invalid pension. It was by an Labour government. NDIS. Universal services. These are things that Labor governments build and the Liberals try to stop and cut.
But the biggest omission—the thing the Prime Minister does not want to talk about or get people to think about—is quarantine and vaccines. He's had two jobs above all else with the pandemic in the last few months: manage quarantining to stop COVID coming in and stop it leaking out of hotel quarantine, and get a reliable, diverse supply of vaccines and get them out to states and territories to get in people's arms. He's obsessed with Labor every question time. He doesn't want to talk about doing his own job.
The vaccination program is way off track. As of last Thursday, we've got one per cent of people in this country vaccinated. That's an embarrassment across the whole of the developed world. We're vulnerable to outbreaks and lockdowns. We're seeing it now re-emerge in Melbourne because it leaked out of South Australian hotel room because there are no national standards for quarantine. Imagine if Labor had made a mess like this. You'd run out of black ink to print the newspapers. The borders: 'Labor mess.' But apparently it's OK when we have one per cent of Australians vaccinated because of the government's incompetence, mixed messages and confusion.
We need to be careful not to confuse antivaxxers with vaccine hesitancy. I was down the shops for two hours and had a lot of very sensible people come up saying: 'I'm not sure about the AstraZeneca vaccine. I heard the health minister saying, "Well, you can get another one in a few months." You need a consistent, serious message. They spent $1 billion on taxpayer ads since they got elected but not when it actually matters. Literally right now there are ads on TV, funded by the taxpayer, promoting the Liberal Party, promoting roads that haven't even been built, but they haven't got a proper vaccination campaign out. Why is that? Because they've stuffed up the supply, they've stuffed up the distribution and they don't actually want people to think hard about that. They put all their eggs in one basket and the government owns this shocking failure. It's adding billions of dollars to the debt, costing billions of dollars to the economy, and it's on their watch.
And then there's quarantine. The Prime Minister never takes responsibility when it matters. He turns his back on people. If you are a cat or a dog or a horse and you come to Australia, you go to a Commonwealth quarantine facility, but, if you're a person, apparently that's not his responsibility. He had a report on his desk seven months ago—the Halton report—saying, 'There are a bunch of things you have to do. You've got to have national standards.' There are still no national standards for quarantine. All the states and territories do different things. The Prime Minister likes it that way because he can blame them instead of doing his job. Still the health guidelines in the country don't even accept that COVID's airborne, because then he'd have to fund N95 masks and put ventilation standards in. The best time to build a quarantine facility was last year, and the next best time is today. He needs to fix hotel quarantine and build purpose-built quarantine.
With regard to the borders being open, we hear a lot of footsie. He doesn't want people to think about what the future will be like. It's way too early to know about quarantine-free travel. But keeping the virus out does not mean keeping all people out. Australians should not have to live in a gilded cage. Australia under this government needs to overhaul completely how it is managing the coming and going of people and to scale up nationally auspiced quarantine.
There can be no certainty about how and when borders open safely, and its way over time that the Prime Minster stood up, did his job, took responsibility for quarantine and fixed his vaccine mess.