Speaking On The Appropriations Bill 2014-15

Sometime this year, good government is going to start—and, by the gods of mercy, it cannot come too soon.


Wherever you look, from hospitals to GP surgeries, from preschools to universities, from pensioners to families, and to communication services like the National Broadband Network, what this government have not cut they have broken. Then there is the rest of the economy, which has absolutely ground to a halt by the decision-making paralysis of those who sit opposite. So obsessed are they with who on the front bench is going to be the next Prime Minister of Australia that the basic business of government is just not happening. There would not be a member of parliament who has not had a conga line of community organisations camped on their doorstep, plaintively begging them to try to get the government to make a decision on their next funding round. There would not be an area of the economy that has not had the absolute policy paralysis of this government affecting them in their everyday decisions.

I was expecting in this debate an opportunity to hear from members of the other side of the House about what they were going to do to stand up for their electorates on the things that really matter. Appropriation bills are an important opportunity for the parliament. They are an opportunity for the government to release additional money to advance its economic and social programs. They are also an opportunity to see the government reallocate money within the budget to projects or purposes that have been either neglected in the months prior to the appropriations debate or absolutely unforeseen—things that have turned up post-budget day that could not have been contemplated and that any party committed to good government would have included in the appropriations bills so that we could deal with those issues. Have heard from any them about those things? No, we absolutely have not.

I want to focus on the issue that matters most to people on this side of the House, and that is the issue of employment and unemployment—a matter which is No. 1 for people who vote for me to come here into parliament and represent their interests. I see the member for Wakefield in the House today and I know that every day that he comes into parliament he is fighting for jobs and opportunities for the people he represents in parliament—particularly those who are working in the manufacturing sector. I have never seen a more passionate member of parliament when it comes to talking to the interests of manufacturing workers.

A government that was focused on employment and unemployment and not on the intrigues of their own party room would know that they are in strife. In the month that they took office, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment level in this country was 6.1 per cent. This is a government that promised jobs growth, a government that promised a million new jobs in its first term of government. What do we see?

We see unemployment going up to 6.4 per cent. Under this Prime Minister and this government, we are going to see the highest rate of unemployment that we have seen in the last decade—even through the global financial crisis. We will not have seen unemployment figure at the rate that we are seeing under this government and on their watch. And is it any wonder?

I am glad the member for Wakefield is in the chamber, because I saw one of the most passionate speeches that I have heard from a member of parliament in this place the very day that we saw the Treasurer, supported by the Prime Minister, chase an iconic car manufacturer, an iconic Australian brand, out of the country. They virtually begged them—and I am talking about Holden—to close the doors and leave the country. Is it any wonder that we see a complete misunderstanding of the need of ordinary workers in this country and is it any wonder that we see the unemployment rate going from 6.1 per cent to 6.4 per cent in the first 12 months? I expected to see some passionate contributions from members opposite about what the government was going to do to address the scourge of unemployment, but we have not heard anything about that. In fact, what we have seen is a cheer squad for the cruel, harsh cuts that this government is visiting upon the Australian people.

One member of parliament that I would have expected to come in here and have something to say about employment in her electorate is the member for Gilmore, because, in the last 24 hours, her electorate has been shocked by some terrible news, with the closure of Australian Paper mills. This is a very important employer and a very important contractor in the Bomaderry and Nowra districts. It has been producing quality paper for over 65 years. It has been producing some of the highest quality paper. Indeed, it is the only facility within Australia that can produce the sort of security paper that is used in things like cheques and bank cheques. The closure of this plant means that every bank and even the Australian government will be importing that sort of paper. Quite typically, over 75 people are going to lose their jobs as a result of this, and my heart goes out to them.

In my own electorate I lived through the bitter months of the downturn in the steel industry and the closure of a BlueScope blast furnace. I contrast what the Illawarra based MPs did at that time—rallying around the workers and the town and putting in place a rescue plan for the workers and to support the business through that difficult time—with the inaction from those opposite. Not a word has been offered in this place in the interests of those workers in the member for Gilmore's electorate. I certainly hope that some action is going on somewhere that I have not heard about. I certainly hope that something is going on—and I know I am not alone. I think of the circumstances of Jono Clack. Many people, as I have said, have been working there for over 20 years—but not Jono. He is a young apprentice who thought his future was set. He is a talented young bloke. In fact, he is so talented that this year he won an award for excellence in electrotechnology at the New South Wales Training Awards—a man with a future. He thought he was going to be able to complete his apprenticeship at Australian Paper mills but, regrettably, that is not going to occur.

There is an urgent need for the government to address the serious policy issues confronting the people of the Illawarra and the Shoalhaven. Employment is the first, second and third priority. I said that unemployment nationally was 6.4 per cent. That is an absolute tragedy but, when you look at the unemployment rate in the district where Australian Paper mills operates, it is a full one per cent higher than that. It is 7.2 per cent—nearly a full one per cent higher than the national average. If ever there was a need to do something about this, this is the time. I see the member for Gilmore has entered the chamber now. I hope she will have the opportunity to say what she is going to do to defend the interests of manufacturing in her electorate.

Right around the country we saw members opposite saying to electorates that if they elected them they would see jobs growth, opportunities and members standing up for opportunities in their electorate. Instead, we are seeing a cheer squad for this budget, reinforced by the appropriation bills here today. What we are looking for from those opposite is some leadership. When they went to the election they promised that they were going to stand up for their local electorates. When their electors returned them as the successful members for their electorate, they expected somebody to come to Canberra to fight for their local interests—but they are still waiting. Right around regional Australia they are still waiting. They were expecting somebody to come here and fight for their interests and they are still waiting. All we see are cheer squads for the Prime Minister—however long he is the Prime Minister—and cheer squads for the cuts of this Treasurer, instead of doing something for their local communities.

I saw those opposite criticise the previous government when we were out there fighting for jobs. We used to have a local employment coordinator whose job it was to connect people in circumstances like this—people who had just lost their jobs—with new job opportunities. We used to have one. They sacked her. They sacked the local employment coordinator whose job it was to look after people in circumstances like this.

Is the member for Gilmore going to stand here now and say, 'I will work day in, day out, to ensure that we have this position reinstated to help the local workers, where we have 7.2 per cent unemployment'? I bet we do not hear a peep of it, because the people living in regional Australia, who elected members to come in here and be regional champions, are still waiting for their regional champions. And the fact is that each and every one of the members opposite is going to vote in favour of these appropriations bills. This is their opportunity to say, 'The budget was wrong, and we're going to vote against it,' because this is a revisitation of the budget. I encourage you to have an open mind on that matter. As parliamentarians, we have got to leave ourselves open to the possibility of persuasion.

Before the debate was adjourned, I had some passionate things to say about what I believed to be the absence of a plan for jobs, industry and employment in the government's program. I was passionate about that because I am watching around the area that I represent and immediately adjacent to that people are losing their jobs, industry, particularly the Australian paper mill is closing down and people that I know are losing their jobs. It is hitting those towns very hard.

I also want to repeat the observation that these appropriation bills are effectively a part of the budget making process. They are a requirement for the parliament to authorise the approval of additional funds for the purposes set out in the budget and for the government to reallocate funds where they think they have got something wrong, where unanticipated things have come up between the budget making process in May last year and where we are today.