BILLS (Federation Chamber): Budget Reply 2021

26 May 2021

I spent last week and the whole weekend talking to the good people of Cooper. I doorknocked, I caught up with people at shopping centres and cafes and I also had emails and phone calls, and all of them have raised with me the glaring gaps in this government's last budget. My electorate is widely representative of the broader population. It's fabulously diverse, from retired teachers, academics and knowledge economy workers to gutsy blue-collar workers who keep our manufacturing sector alive. I have high-wealth workers and individuals and small business owners, but I also have half my electorate earning the minimum wage: blue-collar workers from factories and distribution centres, in the retail sector, working machines and cutting for clothing and textile manufacturers, and repairing cars. I have proud multicultural groups from Africa, China, India, Vietnam and right across Europe, and I have a very proud First Nations community. They are hardworking and they love their community clubs and sporting clubs, and—it might surprise some in this Chamber—they vote Labor.

I am so eternally grateful for the healthy Labor vote that we have in Cooper. I do my best to represent them all, but it's not hard. It might surprise some people in this Chamber, but there are some things that are important to them all. They care about equality and respect for women, they care for the climate, they care about our elderly, they care about workers' rights and decent jobs, and they care about schools and hospitals. On just about all measures, this budget has let them down.

Now, let's go to climate. The Liberal Party's spectacular failure to tackle the climate emergency is terrifying. Lack of investment in renewables, no eye on the future. Not only will they not listen to science but they do not listen to that all-powerful, in their eyes, market that they so idolise. Labor knows that good climate policy equals good jobs. It is the way forward. Labor understands that we need to start planning now for the jobs of the future. We announced new energy apprenticeships because we want our young people to be ready to work with groundbreaking innovation. We're actually going to pay kids to study. We need people with the skills to make sure that Australia will be the renewables superpower that we want it to be.

We don't want to leave anyone behind. Labor will set communities up for the future. If we don't present a clear way forward, then action on climate change will never happen—like the appalling decision of the minister for resources, knocking back a wind farm that promised 250 jobs to the people of North Queensland and instead investing $600 million in a gas plant that will ultimately create 10 jobs and virtually never be turned on. The government's own environmental impact statement said it might be open seven days of the year. The New South Wales government has actually supported the installation of renewables and battery power to make up for the Liddell power plant closure. The federal Liberal government, on the other hand, wants a gas plant that will be a $600 million stranded asset. And there was no money for community batteries—something that people are screaming for. The technology is there, the know-how is there, the batteries are there, but where is the government's support to get such a program off the ground? Stuck in the dark, or in the dark ages. Labor will support community batteries.

While I'm talking about climate, I just want to give a big shout-out to the school climate strikers who flooded the streets all around Australia last week in their hundreds of thousands, demanding urgent action on the climate emergency. I marched in solidarity with them, with my union comrades, with Cooper constituents and with my 87-year-old mother-in-law, who cares equally about climate change. I was thinking about those kids when I moved a motion at our 2021 conference that said:

Labor takes an emergency footing in tackling climate change, adopting renewable energy at a rapid pace in order to address the existential threat of the climate emergency and to reach Australia's potential as a renewables superpower.

Getting to net zero by 2050 is a once-in-a-generation economy-wide reform, and we, Labor, are the only party up to this enormous task.

Another important thing that my electorate is very worried about is aged care. The Liberal Party announced a half-hearted response to the comprehensive royal commission. For example, they only announced stage 1 of the minutes-of-care requirement in nursing homes. They refused recommendations to put a registered nurse on every shift. You know, throwing money at providers will not fix a broken system if there's nothing there for the workforce which is crucially vital to quality care—no fix for better wages, no changes to auditing practices, no accountability for the billions of dollars of taxpayer money that goes to the sector. Labor will support reform in the aged care sector. We will support mandated minimum staffing levels and better pay for staff. We know that that is the key to quality care.

On the issue of equality, and in particular for women, again, the Liberal Party has failed to fully implement the Respect@Work recommendations. They said they had. Maybe they noted some or noted that some of them may not be implemented. It was pretty wishy-washy response all together. If you read the sneaky footnotes in their response then you really know that they're negating pretty much any strong action on that report.

For Labor women are at the centre of everything we do. They're not just an afterthought or an add-on or a political problem to fix. This government began its time in office with just one woman in a cabinet of 19. Since then it has fought tooth and nail to block any reform that would increase female political representation. Almost half of Labor Party senators and members of parliament are women, but, unfortunately, only about a quarter of coalition MPs and senators are. This means poorer policies for Australian women all around.

The last year, in the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession, the federal budget showed no meaningful measures to address the problems facing Australian women at work, in the family, or in retirement. Female Liberal members of parliament were forced to defend the budget by claiming road funding was a women's measure, because women drive on roads too. After the widespread panning of last year's budget, the Prime Minister is trying to show that he's finally learnt his lesson, but the budget is again full of half measures, backflips and old policies announced anew.

Australian women deserve real leadership, not cheap political fixes. We need a government committed to decent pay; to job security for women and to their independence in retirement; to properly funding essential services and care; and to safety at work, at home and in our communities. Real leadership means economic security and independence and safety for Australian women. This requires thoughtful investment, not photo-ops and political fixes.

For my First Nations community in Cooper and across the country there was virtually nothing to help close the gap, nothing for a referendum on a voice to parliament, no commitment to Uluru. We, in the Labor Party, are committed to justice. We are committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and we are committed to closing the gap.

On workers' rights there was a commitment in the budget from the government: there was a commitment to record low wages growth. That's it. That's what workers got. We know on this side of the House that workers need decent, secure jobs and that is at the heart of everything we do—jobs that pay the rent and put food on the table, jobs that mean you don't have to work three jobs just to make a living. Labor will actually criminalise wage theft.

In my electorate there is a big university, La Trobe University, and it employs thousands of people. For that sector, and for the university in my electorate, there's a big fat zero. In fact, they gave them a massive funding cut. This is on top of the devastation wrecked on the sector by COVID where we heard, on an ABC report the other night, that up to 70,000 jobs could be lost. La Trobe University has a very high proportion of university workers living in Cooper. They have lost their jobs or they've come to me saying how anxious they are that they are going to lose their job. So many small businesses and medium sized businesses in my electorate, and landlords for that matter, depend on the university for their business.

Now on to housing. The gift for the people of Australia on the issue of the high cost of housing, affordable housing, is to use up your retirement savings. That's their answer. They said, 'Don't rely on us to pull all the levers that a government can pull so that you can have a home and a decent retirement'. You don't have to choose between the two, but the government says you do—that's great. How about making housing more affordable? How about helping low-income earners rent? How about trying to house our homeless people, the biggest group of which are women over 50? Labor committed to a $10 billion housing Australia future fund with a special focus on older women. That is leadership. That is what the country needs.

Finally, I want to talk about the issue of child care, an issue that is so important to our economy and to the women of Australia who find themselves locked out of the full-time workforce because they simply can't afford child care. The Liberal government saw that this was actually a political issue. They saw that Labor was running very, very well with a decent childcare policy and they came up with another childcare policy that was half-hearted at best. It was a political fix. It was labelled a women's issue. Child care is not a women's issue. It is a social issue for all of society. We know that if we can properly fund child care the economy benefits, men benefit, all women benefit and our kids benefit. The Labor policy is so superior to the Liberal Party's policy that 86 per cent of families with children under six would be better off. This government has let the people of Cooper, of my electorate, down. It has let the country down.