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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 311

Senator KETTER (Queensland) (19:20): I rise to make my first adjournment speech in the 45th Parliament. I want to commence by thanking the people of Queensland for supporting me in my re-election. It continues to be a great honour and a privilege to represent the people of Queensland in this place. I particularly want to thank the thousands of Labor Party members and supporters who have worked so hard over the protracted period of the election campaign. They really put their heart and soul into the Labor cause.

I also want to welcome all the new senators who are joining us for the 45th Parliament. In particular, I would like to welcome my new Queensland Labor colleagues, Senator Murray Watt and Senator Anthony Chisholm, who I know will make an outstanding contribution to this place. I would also like to acknowledge our new Queensland members of parliament in the lower house: Susan Lamb, representing Longman; Cathy O'Toole, representing Herbert; and Milton Dick, representing Oxley. I would also like to acknowledge some of the Queensland Labor Candidates in the recent election who were unsuccessful on this occasion, including Jacqui Pedersen in Petrie, Leisa Neaton in Capricornia, Zac Beers in Flynn, Des Hardman in Forde and Pat O'Neil in Brisbane. They were all very, very close to success but not quite there. I know that they will be back better and stronger next time and that they will not give up on their fight against inequality.

On 15 September last year, the Prime Minister took to his Facebook page to announce to the Australian people that there was never a more exciting time to be an Australian. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The Prime Minister then went on to say that the government would ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future and that he was putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of that. In the same statement, he continued by saying:

We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility and change is our friend, is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.

It was a proclamation that the innovation nation had been born.

On Monday this week, the Prime Minister outlined his 25-point battle plan, a battle plan to stifle innovation, a battle plan to hurt low- and middle-income families and a battle plan to take up the same fight as his predecessor, Mr Tony Abbott. This battle plan can only be described as the same old ramrod, cavalier approach to governance that the people of Australia can expect from the Liberal Party, with some of this legislation being on the table since 2014.

Yesterday, the Australian released Newspoll data showing yet another slump in public support for Mr Turnbull and the Liberals. When asked if he was worried about the new data, the Treasurer, Mr Morrison, said: 'No, I'm not. People elect us to get on with the job; that is what we are doing. We've got a raft of legislation coming in this week. There are some 24 bills or thereabouts.' Need I remind the Treasurer that some of these bills are more than three years old. How does that equate to getting on with the job? I would describe that as a job not being done!

This government appears to be a continuation of the Abbott government, which had the lowest rate of passing legislation since the 1960s. So much for change. So much for being nimble and agile. So much for innovation. Under this unruly government, Australia is slipping. Australia is the only advanced economy in the world that is shedding jobs in renewable energy. We have fallen from 30th to 60th in global internet speeds, despite billions of dollars in cost blow-outs. Our schools are slipping in science, maths, reading and writing, yet the government is cutting billions from education. As Mr Shorten said, we cannot have an innovation nation without first having an education nation.

Income inequality in Australia has been rising. We know that inequality is one of the impediments to economic growth. Overall, Australia has had strong policy and institutional settings, which have acted to slow the growth of income inequality. I refer to the recent report by the Chifley Research Centre of August 2016, which noted that our policy and institutional settings include:

… a strong social safety net, including means-tested welfare, universal healthcare, and universal superannuation; progressive income tax and a low level for a consumption tax; high public investment in education; a solid minimum wage and minimum employment standards; and anti-discrimination protection.

The report states:

It is worth noting that many of these fundamentals are exactly the features of Australia’s economy that are clearly in the sights of the current Coalition Government.

This government is hurting Australia and it is hurting Australia right now. Australia has slipped two places on the Global Innovation Index, failing to export and commercialise enough ideas to push into the top tier. Australia is placed 19th on the 2016 index, down from 17th when Mr Abbott was Prime Minister. According to the index, Australia ranks in the top 10 worldwide when it comes to tertiary education participation, infrastructure, information and communication technologies, access to credit and new business activity. But it falls short of global standards when it comes to government spending on secondary education per pupil, the number of science and engineering graduates, the ease of protecting minority investors, and ICT imports.

That is why Labor has policy platforms to foster innovation, to make sure Australia does not get left behind. The 'Your Child. Our Future' plan provided for a range of innovations, such as more one-on-one support and attention for each student; early intervention programs in every school, so that students do not fall behind; remedial literacy and numeracy support in every school; extension classes to challenge students that are excelling in class; and a range of other things. Our plan for computer coding in every school aimed at developing and promoting innovative teaching of coding in our schools; ensuring teachers in every school gain access to practical hands-on training in coding and its integration into the classroom; and a range of other features. Our plans to fund STEM teaching would ensure we have the right people in place to teach our kids the skills and jobs they need for the future.

Australia has a chronic shortage of women graduating with computer science or coding skills. Since 2001, the rate of women enrolling in an IT degree has actually fallen from about one in four to just one in 10. To counter this, Labor launched our Girls into Code policy—a $4.5 million grants program to support organisations that promote, encourage and inspire girls to learn code. But the current government will have none of this. They would sooner have their supporters and their leader chant 'jobs and growth' in an attempt to mask, shield and hide their own incompetence.

Where is the growth? Where are the jobs? Where is the good news? Truthfully, there is not much. Mr Turnbull and the Liberals do not innovate; they agitate. We saw this only yesterday when coalition backbenchers banded together to reintroduce changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. So much for their innovation agenda; they are literally trying to change things back to the way they used to be. The Liberals are not looking forward; they are looking backwards.

In years to come, when we look back on this government, what will people say the great achievement of the Turnbull government was? I doubt they will say much. They might say the government achieved a tax cut for the top end of town. They might say the government reached a consensus on a weak superannuation policy. I can tell honourable senators what they have achieved. They have succeeded in ensuring that Australia just recorded its lowest wage growth in 18 years. They have succeeded in trying to pass the same legislation for the past three years. They have succeeded in achieving nothing.