Appropriations Bill 2017

Australia's a great country, but we really do face some big challenges, and now more than ever Australia needs a Prime Minister with a vision for this country and a vision for its people. But instead we've got a Prime Minister and a government which have completely run out of ideas. Not only have they run out of ideas; they are distracted and divided, and completely bereft of any vision for this country. They say one thing and they do exactly the opposite.

Their plan for Australian workers is breathtaking. They are supporting pay cuts for Australian workers at the very same time as they are supporting tax cuts for their bosses and the big companies. Their plan for the future of our workforce is to cut funding for our TAFEs at the very same time as they are importing skilled workers from overseas to do the jobs that Australian companies need to be done. The government has cut more than $2.8 billion from our TAFEs, from skills and from training. As to their plan for universities—now this is going to kill you—we've got a Prime Minister who runs around the country and will talk to anyone with two eyes and a pair of ears about the importance of innovation while at the very same time they've cut $617 million from the very institutions that are training Australians in how to innovate! From my own university, Wollongong University—and I'm a proud graduate of that place—$45 million is being cut. This government has lost the plot.

Their plan to close the gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequality is to pretend that the $500 million that they have cut out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs over the last four years and their five years of inaction just did not happen. Over the last 24 hours, we've seen the ridiculous thing where they're asking us to give them credit for reopening an antismoking program that they closed down only three years ago. They are going to have another conversation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while the memory of the Prime Minister closing the door on the Uluru Statement from the Heart is still fresh in the minds of those very same people. He has dithered and dallied on reconciliation while making grand speeches about the need for urgent action. He talks about the importance and the need for Australia to respect women and girls, but we see so few of them on his own front bench. He nobbles regional universities with funding cuts and increased enrolment fees. He says, 'We need to unite as one Australia,' while presiding over ever-growing inequality.

In Australia today, wealth is more concentrated than at any time in the last 60 years. The richest 10 per cent of Australians own 45 per cent of all wealth, and the gap between city Australia and regional Australia is widening. If you're in the top 20 per cent, you probably live in one of our capital cities. If you're in the bottom 20 per cent, you probably live outside one of those capital cities. If you're in one of those regional areas and you're represented by a Labor MP, you'll find somebody coming to Canberra and, with every breath they take, they will fight against the pernicious attacks of the government on the very programs and the very institutions which are driving at reducing inequality in this country. But, if you are unfortunate enough in one of the regional areas to be represented by one of the Liberal-National Party MPs, you'll find an MP who fights like a lion in his own electorate and says the most outrageous things about what he or she will take on when they come to Canberra, but they file in here and vote, day after day, against the very interests of their own electorates.

Let's look at what's going on in some of the regional areas. It doesn't matter which indicator you look at: there is a growing gap. There is a health gap, whether you measure it in access to medical care, whether you measure it in access to the necessary pharmaceuticals or whether you measure it in the prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes. Diabetes is 3.5 times more common in working adults from the poorer areas, the majority of whom are in regional Australia—a whopping 3.5 times more common. What's the answer from the geniuses opposite? To make it harder for a person in regional Australia to go and see a GP. This is a government bereft of ideas. But it's not just about health. If you look at life expectancy, there is a three-year gap. For the average white Australian—and I'll get to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians—living in regional Australia versus one living in one of the capitals or in one of the metropolitan areas of the country, there is an average three-year life expectancy gap. That blows out to 10 years if you go to rural and remote Australia. We all know, after reading the 10-year Closing the gap report yesterday, what the unacceptably high gap in life expectancy is between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians in those communities.

Education is the tool that we use to improve the life expectancies and the life opportunities available for people who come from a modest background versus those who are born with every opportunity in life. But, when you look at the data, the gap in the participation rate between the city and the country is also growing. The gap in secondary education between major cities and outer regional areas is a whopping 7.3 per cent. We've got to ask ourselves whether LNP representatives from regional electorates were aware of the 7.3 per cent participation gap in secondary education when they filed into this place and voted in favour of cuts to school education.

The Prime Minister and his government say that they care about rising electricity costs, while rejecting every single sensible plan, including the sensible plans that were commissioned by their own ministers. It takes a special kind of wisdom to get some of the smartest people in the country to prepare a report on how we can have a clean energy future with stable and reliable electricity prices and then send it off to some of the daftest people in your party room and accept the recommendations that come from those very same people. It takes a special kind of genius, a special kind of government, but that's exactly what this mob over here have done. Is it any wonder that electricity bills in the last quarter alone were up by up to 20 per cent? This is the result of their dithering and their do-nothing approach when it comes to energy policy.

Let's talk about housing and housing affordability. The federal government could do something. They could reach across the table and join in a bipartisan effort with the Labor proposals to remove the excessive subsidies that are currently going into the housing sector to support people who are buying their second, third, fourth or fifth house and take some heat out of the housing market at the same time as they do something more productive with that money, but they have rejected Labor's proposal. They are completely bereft of ideas when it comes to housing affordability and, worse than that, when it comes to supporting housing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities—tearing up the national partnership agreement which made such tremendous progress in providing both housing and skills in those communities throughout Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia and other places.

We had a Treasurer once who said that the answer to housing affordability is to go out and find some rich parents. Well, if that wasn't bad enough, you've got a Deputy Prime Minister who says the answer is to go and move to regional Australia because rent's pretty cheap there. Not everybody has the opportunity of having a rich mate who is going to provide an apartment for them rent free. Most Australians have to struggle hard to put a roof over their head. This government is doing nothing to support them in that. The Prime Minister likes to talk about infrastructure but he has fundamentally failed to fund infrastructure projects in Tasmania, in Victoria and in South Australia—the states which are crying out for massive injections of infrastructure spend.

The great Gough Whitlam once said that Labor governments see election victories as instructions to perform, while Liberal governments see them as a right to preside. Since the last election, we have seen nothing more than the truth of this saying in the performance of this government. There are only two things that unite a divided coalition government: attacking industrial rights and the industrial relations system and providing big business tax cuts. Let's have a look at the decision to support wage reductions through penalty rate cuts throughout the economy. At the same time as you have a Treasurer who is saying the most urgent economic reform that we need in this country is a pay rise, they are cheering on the Fair Work Commission as it reduced and removed penalty rate rights for thousands and thousands of Australian workers. Over 700,000 workers are likely to be affected by that decision. Cutting penalty rates will see a pay cut for low-, middle- and working-class families of up to $77 a week. That's not a very good way to go about increasing wages—by putting them up to $77 a week behind. In my own electorate, there are over 7,000 workers in the retail sector who are affected by this and around 4,200 workers in the accommodation and food sector who are affected by this. But it's not just electorates like mine; it is the same right throughout regional Australia. I happen to have the figures for Capricornia. There are about 13,000 retail workers in the Rockhampton and Gladstone areas and around 8,700 food and accommodation workers. In fact, if you look at the data, around one in seven workers in the electorates of Capricornia and Flynn are affected by direct decisions of this government and their agencies: a pay cut for these workers, supported by members opposite, with not a plan to do anything about it.

I want to say something about trickle-down economics because the Prime Minister is fond of lecturing us on what he calls the fundamental laws of economics, which he says have not changed. He says that if we give corporates and the wealthy more money, it will somehow trickle down in the form of pay rises. He's willing to take a $65 billion gamble on federal finances to give this old chestnut of trickle-down economics a go. He could legislate for it, of course. He could put in the legislation that he has before the Senate a requirement that to receive the tax cut you've got to pass it on to your workers, but he won't do that. He won't do that, because he doesn't even believe his own rhetoric and he knows that this tax cut is not going to lead to a pay rise for ordinary Australians. Ordinary Australians know that it's not the pay that is going to rise. It's not the pay and the money that are trickling down to households. It's the bills—increases for health insurance costs, increases for school fee costs, paying more money for energy, paying more money for everything. In fact, ordinary Australians know that, when the Prime Minister is talking about trickle-down, they have this vision of him standing on a balcony somewhere and he's pouring scorn down on them. It's certainly not the pay and the money trickling down to them; it's something else indeed.

There is no credibility, and he can't point to a country on earth where massive tax cuts to the biggest and wealthiest corporations in this country are going to lead to a pay increase for workers. If the government want some ideas, they should look to what Labor's doing. We have a vision for this country. This government is bereft of ideas. They are divided. They have not got an idea for the future of the country.