Speech to Parliament Appropriation Bills 2020-2021

By David Smith MP

21 October 2020

House of Representatives

Federation Chamber

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021

Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021

Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-21


Second Reading Debate

Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean) (19:07): I rise in support of the appropriation bills. The numbers in this budget are big—a $213.7 billion deficit this financial year; $480 billion of cumulative deficits over the forward estimates; the budget in deficit every year for the next decade; net debt of $703.2 billion this year, growing to $966.2 billion at the end of the forward estimates; and gross debt, which is currently over $800 billion, forecast to get to well over a trillion dollars over the forward estimates, peaking at $1.7 trillion over the decade. I note these numbers and ask those opposite to remember them the next time they consider reheating old debates of debt and deficit.

But budgets are much more than numbers. They're about priorities and they're about delivering on those priorities. They tell the nation what matters. No-one on this side of the chamber will ever forget Labor's budget priorities to deal with the GFC—investing in our schools and social housing and driving demand to keep the nation out of recession. As a Labor member, I won't forget the 2013 budget that funded the NDIS and better schools funding reforms. Certainly I will never forget the Liberal-National budget of 2014 that cut funding for the ABC and SBS and cut funding to public services across the country. It went for savings from Newstart recipients, youth allowance recipients and pensioners. Clear priorities indeed. This 2020 budget lays out the Morrison government's priorities: how it's going to deal with this deep recession, what it will invest in, how it will drive demand and what policies matter. This is where this year's budget falls over.

It's no secret that the Australian economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, but what the government has chosen to ignore is that the economy was suffering long before COVID reached our country. Before this budget was being crafted, debt was more than double what this government inherited, and growth had been the weakest it's been since the GFC. With all the talk about these being unprecedented times, the truth is that the problems gripping our economy existed long before COVID arrived, and the solutions need to endure long after it's gone.

To its credit, this government supported proposals for wage subsidies proposed by the Labor movement. How have they now responded in this budget? Not by increasing support for groups that needed it most, but instead by withdrawing funding from those already in strife. What's worse than withdrawing support is continuing to neglect the groups that weren't being helped in the first place. They include casual workers, women and elderly Australians, who are being excluded from vital support. There is no plan for the future of JobSeeker recipients, leaving well over a million recipients, including over 4,000 in my electorate of Bean, with an uncertain future as to whether they will go back to the old rate of $40 a day.

There is nothing in the budget to drive jobs through the transition to a clean energy future—the opportunity to rewire the old central distribution stuctured grid. Modernising the grid will provide thousands of new construction jobs for Australians, many of those in our regions. It will revitalise traditional industries like steel and aluminium, and it will allow growth in new sectors like hydrogen and battery production, laying the foundation for the next stage of renewables investment, driving down costs and providing investment certainty for businesses.

There are no funds in this budget to stand up and build the workforce of the National Integrity Commission or to appropriately fund the National Audit Office. There is nothing to seriously drive our science, research and development sectors, with much of the potential gains chimeric or narrowly defined—the sectors that will be the very drivers of productivity gains in the future. There are no additional funds to address the crisis in aged care, with the extra home-care places in this year's budget being a drop in the ocean compared to the waiting lists today. Nor are there any meaningful measures to advance opportunities for women. And, as we debated this week in this chamber, there is nothing to support our vital aviation sector.

We also see this budget as missing a huge opportunity to invest in higher education. On top of the stress that many year 12 students face this year, the government, with its usual disregard, increased university fees, with some degrees more than doubling in cost. This will mean that thousands of Australian will likely miss out on going to university and getting a degree.

After spending five years creating a tradie crisis in Australia, the government back in 2018 promised an extra 300,000 apprentices over a four-year period. After a complete failure on this front they have reheated this approach to promise an additional 100,000 apprentices and trainees by the end of 2021. The reality is that more than 140,000 apprentices have been lost on their watch. The gap between announcement and performance is massive. This budget doesn't go close to making up for seven years of failure that has seen more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training.

For those in the ACT, be aware that this budget, disappointingly, continues with an APS-wide staffing cap, a policy which is driving billions of dollars in inefficient contractor arrangements and which is undermining expertise in our public service. Since 2013, 15½ thousand fewer people have been employed under the Public Service Act and there are over 19,000 fewer ongoing employees. In the ACT alone, since 2013 we've lost over 7,500 ongoing positions. While there have been small gains in non-ongoing roles, this government has missed an opportunity to create thousands of entry-level jobs, despite having work that needs to be done across every state, city and town in this country. The efficiency dividend is continued, screwing down on our valuable national cultural institutions and across the public service. It is a policy that, as highlighted in a bipartisan Senate committee report, is having detrimental effects across the ground. Whilst there have been one-off equity injections that are welcome, there is nothing in the budget that addresses the ongoing cuts to staffing in our national institutions. It doesn't address the erosion of critical expertise in science and engineering across the public service. Our nation's population has not got smaller. The work of the public service has not got less complex. Demand for needed services has not got any less. Yet this government doesn't address these issues.

This budget continues with an infrastructure deficit here in the ACT. Despite recent announcements of $155 million in projects, there is only $75 million in new project funding over the forward estimates. Further, when you consider the population of the ACT compared to the overall spend, ACT gets less than half of its share. That's right: 1.7 per cent of the national population, but only 0.7 per cent of the spend. These figures really highlight that, despite the spend, the ACT is being short-changed.

An area that many in my electorate care about is integrity. Governance and audit processes matter to them and to me. They want better oversight of decisions made by this government. Given the sports rorts scandal, the regional infrastructure scandal, cash for visas and recent revelations on land sales, there is a drive for better oversight, accountability and improved standards as integral to good government. This is a position those opposite pretend to agree with. However, they still haven't even produced a draft bill, despite promising to do so before the end of 2019. The list of scandals the government has been embroiled in seems to go on and on. It seems that now more than ever the funding and support for the National Integrity Commission must be appropriated.

This budget also highlights what the Morrison government really thinks of oversight and integrity. It has delivered a devastating blow to the Australian National Audit Office's ability to continue to hold it to account. Led by the Auditor-General, the Audit Office helps ensure taxpayers get value for money for the government's spending. As the recession takes hold and Australia hurtles towards $1 trillion of debt, now is the worst time to cut scrutiny of government spending, as every dollar must count. Yet instead of providing the $6.5 million boost the Audit Office requested, the Prime Minister has cut the budget by a further $1.28 million. For the record, an Albanese government will do the opposite and stand up for integrity and transparency in government.

But it's the critical area of jobs where this budget really falls down. This budget will rack up $1 trillion of debt, yet still doesn't do enough to create jobs. It fails to build for the future and leaves too many Australians behind. It's a budget that aims for six per cent unemployment. That's right—it doesn't aim for full employment. It doesn't even say, 'Let's at least work to a goal of an unemployment figure with a five in front of it.' That's why it has plenty of headline-seeking announcements but still forecasts that another 160,000 Australians will be added to the jobless queues by Christmas. Sadly, some of these people will be in my electorate of Bean.

In fact, with $1 trillion of debt and not even replacing our ageing school science labs, you could argue this budget is not delivering bang for buck for the nation at all. These bills and this budget say, 'We don't really have a problem with thousands being out of work and we don't have a problem with tens of thousands being underemployed.' This government has little plans for the 928,000 people aged over 35 on unemployment benefits who have been deliberately excluded from hiring subsidies. This budget says to those people, 'Good luck finding a job, because we really haven't got much to offer you.' It says to businesses like travel agents in my electorate, 'We only have a tax initiative that relies on turnover and dollars in the bank for you.'

As one business, Absolute Outdoors, said:

'The instant asset write-off is only useful if you're in a cash position to invest and for that investment to be useful to generate more revenue. Or else it's useless.'

This will be the case for many businesses across the Bean electorate. Here's the news for those opposite: if you don't put in levers to drive demand, to bring business through the front door, being able to write off a new asset is cold comfort. This is why we've been saying this budget misses the mark.

In contrast to these shortcomings, the Australian people got a positive viable alternative from the Leader of the Labor Party in the budget reply—a plan to kickstart the economy and boost workforce participation through policies such as housing investment, a working-family childcare boost and an Australian skills guarantee. It is a plan for a future made in Australia and a plan to invest in the skills, research and training to kickstart the next generation of Australian manufacturing jobs.

At a recent visit to the Wonderschool in the Lanyon Valley in my electorate of Bean with shadow minister Amanda Rishworth and our federal leader, we could see firsthand the value of investing in early education. It's an excellent early education provider, and families and their children should not have barriers to accessing such an environment.

Labor recognises that many working mums and dads currently cannot afford to work more than three days a week. This has been affirmed by new research by the Grattan Institute that shows the significant financial barriers many Australian parents currently face to working full-time. Under this government's childcare system, for a family of two children in child care and a primary care earner earning $100,000 the gain in disposable income if the secondary income earner works a fourth day in the week is zero. Under Labor's childcare plan, the same family will be better off by up to $2,100 per annum if the secondary income earner works a fourth day. Our plan is to scrap the childcare subsidy cap, which often sees women losing money from an extra day of work, and lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent. Under our plan, 97 per cent of all families in the system will save between $600 to $2,900 a year, with no family being worse off. As our shadow minister said before, the evidence is overwhelming that removing the financial disincentives for women to work more is great for families and great for the economy.

Unlike those opposite, another critical area that Labor has a real plan for is manufacturing—not a glossy brochure type plan to be used in question time but a robust plan for meeting the challenges of this recession through good secure jobs. That includes a national rail manufacturing plan to see more trains built in Australia by local workers, ensuring every dollar of federal spending spent on rail projects boosts local jobs and industry. It also includes a defence industry development strategy that leverages our $270 billion investment to develop sovereign industrial and research capabilities and build skills and expertise within the Australian workforce, and an Australian skills guarantee to give apprentices, trainees and cadets a genuine foot in the door when it comes to work on major Commonwealth projects by ensuring that one in ten jobs on major federally funded projects are given to apprentices, trainees or cadets.

Labor is not blocking supply and will vote to pass these bills. But let's not pretend that this budget contains what is required for our nation, for our territory or for the electorate of Bean. It's a budget that looks in the rear-view mirror. It's a budget that racks up a trillion dollars in debt and looks to fast forward the nation back to pre-pandemic settings: an economy that was not working for many in our community. As my colleagues and I have said, our best days lay ahead of us, and we cannot miss this opportunity now to do things better. We cannot miss this opportunity to build a better nation.