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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1787


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:51): If you have watched the news in recent days you might be forgiven for thinking that the government's excuse for not getting on with the job of governing in the interests of Australia's future is the chaos that is occurring behind the scenes such as the issue with the previous leader of the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce, or the previous citizenship debacle. But I am here to say quite clearly that none of those things that happen in the background, none of those peripheral issues, stop a government from doing its job. This government should be doing its job anyway. Scandals are no excuse for not doing it.

The Public Service still chugs away, no matter what's happening. I will say that it does stop you from getting your messages in the news, but it shouldn't stop you from actually doing the work. It shouldn't stop you at all. The Public Service still chugs away and, if given nothing else to do, it will clean up and repair. It will still come up with the reports you've asked for. It will still develop the policies you've asked for. There are lots of ministers on the front bench who weren't involved in any of those debacles. They should have been getting on with their jobs. There is no reason whatsoever why this government shouldn't still be effective.

I'm going to go back to the last time Labor were in government. We were in government roughly the same amount of time as this government has been—between five and six years. So the government have had roughly the same time now as Labor had to build their agenda, do their reports, survey what needed to be done, come up with their plans and introduce big policy ideas. They've had six years. Yet all we've had from them is a corporate tax cut. That's all we've had at the moment. I want to compare this to the last six years of the Labor government, because we also had moments when it was difficult for us to get our messages out. We also had moments of chaos. We did. But it was not in terms of governing. Let's remember back to those days.

We introduced an emissions trading scheme. We tried once and failed. Then we finally introduced an emissions trading scheme. This government came in in 2013 and abolished it and emissions have been rising since.

We created the NBN. We did the hard work of the structural separation of Telstra. That took a while. It was a hard policy area. But we did it, and the NBN was set to grow. This government came in and deliberately destroyed it. On instructions from then Prime Minister Abbott, then Minister Turnbull deliberately set about weakening the NBN and we see the disaster that it is now.

We created the National Disability Insurance Scheme, something we worked with the community on for years before finally establishing it and launching some test sites. Again, we have seen this government not do its bit in making sure that it rolls out as well as it should. There are very real issues with it, and every member in this House would know people in their communities who are struggling with its implementation.

We introduced a new school funding model. Again, there were years of consultation. We increased funding across the board, with incredible support from the public and private school sectors. Again, the government knew it was a good thing when in opposition because it committed to it. When it got into government, it scrapped it. We've seen $30 billion in cuts, in spite of the government's rhetoric, from schools since then.

We created the Tasmanian forestry agreement. It was incredibly difficult work to find a pathway towards sustainable forestry in Tasmania. This government got in and scrapped it.

We established the marine parks—something that many people in my community are very proud of, as am I. And what happened? We had the Abbott government come along and wind back the management plans. It is still up in the air. The marine parks, now six years later, are still at risk.

We developed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the water triggers—incredibly difficult policy areas—and we have seen this government attempt to wind that plan back in spite of the very serious issues in the management of water, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland.

We developed the national agreement on housing and homelessness— something that was working very well. Tens of thousands of new properties came into the affordable housing market because of that agreement. When the government came in, they were very slow to act. We are still in a transitional one right now, between 2017 and 2018, even though since 2011-12 we have seen the number of people aged over 55 seeking homelessness help grow by 9.5 per cent each year—and we have a government that still has a transitional agreement and has cut $44 million per year from homelessness funding since 2014-15.

We introduced paid parental leave. The government hasn't quite scrapped that but they sure as hell have cut it. There are 70,000 mums who will be worse off now thanks to this government cuts.

Apprenticeships actually grew during the global financial crisis. Knowing how downturns usually decimate the apprenticeship base—they completely take out take people who have done a few years and it is very difficult for them to get back in—the Labor government we worked very hard on apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships actually grew during the financial crisis. Now, though, we have 148,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when this government was elected—in spite of the fact that we are in the best economic conditions in 10 years. In Parramatta alone, there are 1,100 fewer apprentices now than there were in September 2013. And, of course, the government has cut funding from TAFE. They have cut more than $2.8 billion from TAFE skills and training. And, in the 2016-17 budget, Prime Minister Turnbull cut a further $600 million from TAFE skills and training over the next four years. That is quite extraordinary from a government. There is no excuse for this government not to be addressing the major issues of the day, and the training of the future workforce should be one of those.

In the Labor government's first years, we gave the biggest increase to pensions in decades. We increased the single pension by about $100 a week. And what did this government do when it came in? It changed the taper rate and seriously undermined the financial stability of part-pensioners—an incredible change for a group of people who had already retired. If you talk to a person who has recently retired, one of the things that they tell you gives them a real shock when they first retire is that they realise the money they have is what they have and they're not actually going to earn any more. So to change the conditions of people once they have retired in the way that this government did by changing the taper rate is quite extraordinary. There are many angry people out there who planned for their retirement for decades and retired on one set of rules and then had those rules change, which significantly undermined their earnings for the rest of their life. The government is also trying to ditch the energy supplement, leaving pensioners up to $366 a year worse off. And they still plan to increase the age pension age to 70. Many people in my community have signed petitions about that.

When Labor was in government, even in a hung parliament, even though we had to convince conservative independents in this House and a progressive party in the Senate, we still managed to get all of this stuff through. We put an extraordinary commitment into renewables, growing that sector strongly under Labor policies. But since this government came in, when they essentially slashed support for renewables, we have seen investment plummet. And we have seen dramatic increases in power prices for households and businesses, which are suffering much more, with no real answer in sight six years later. Instead of getting down and doing the work of figuring out what they were going to do to invest and grow this incredible sector—which is growing around the world so quickly, but not in this country—they have been attacking private companies for making sensible decisions to shut down ageing power plants when the cost of upkeep makes them commercially unviable. You also might remember that in 2015 then Treasurer Hockey instructed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop funding windfarms. So strong is their ideological contempt for renewables, they have done incredible damage to our renewable sector and put us back years.

We can also talk about the economy when it comes to this government. Despite all the rhetoric back when they were in opposition and in their early days in government about growth and jobs—and they are still on it—their performance when it comes to GDP is actually not that great. Between 2010 and 2014 we had the fourth highest GDP growth among OECD countries. The US, UK, Japan and Germany were all contracting back then, but we had the fourth highest GDP growth among those 30-plus OECD countries. Now, in that same group, we are 20th. We've actually slumped to 20th. We are behind Mexico, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and a whole range of other countries. So we have gone from a leader under the former Labor government to a lagger now when you look at the global league table. So all the rhetoric about jobs and growth from those opposite is just not true—and that's despite the fact that GDP growth worldwide is the highest it's been in 10 years. The IMF is actually adjusting forecasts up; yet we are now lagging at No. 20.

The same story can be said of debt. For all the talk of the previous Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister and the previous Treasurer and the current Treasurer about the $200 billion gross debt being frightening and promising that the Liberal government would never ever run willy-nilly into debt and describing the $300 billion in projected debt as gigantic and an almost inconceivable level of debt, what's happening now goes far, far beyond that. It's currently about $515 billion. They said that $200 billion was frightening and now, after six years of Liberal government, it is $515 billion with no sign at all of that slowing down. From the government's own budget papers we are talking about gross debt not even peaking over a 10-year horizon.

There are also a lot of small things that we did in government that had quite an impact. We abolished the gag clauses that the Howard government had introduced into the grant agreements for charities. I was really proud of that, because I had been the subject of one of those gag clauses once. We abolished the gag clauses, and this government came back in and they introduced them again. We abolished temporary protection visas and this government came in and they are back again. We established a loss carry-back scheme for small business where business could carry back losses in one year against tax paid in the previous two years—something that was called for by small business. But that was abolished when this government came to power in 2013. We also established a permanent instant tax write-off scheme for small business. The government abolished that and then they replaced it a year later with a temporary one—a bigger amount but temporary. In the university sector in Western Sydney, when Howard was in government—prior to us winning government—we saw a decline in the number of people from low-socioeconomic status households enrolling in university. We turned that around in six years of a Labor government, and we are now seeing it go back again.

There have been substantial cuts to child care. While the government may claim that the households that are worse off are the wealthier ones, that is actually not true. The households that will suffer most from this government's childcare changes are those where you have a parent trying to get back into the workforce, where they can't demonstrate the number of hours required to get the appropriate rebate because they're still trying to get into the workforce.

Housing—you'd expect that this government would have acted on housing by now. We're in opposition and we've managed to come up with a serious housing policy, but this government hasn't. And that's in spite of the fact that in areas like mine, Western Sydney, the rent for a three-bedroom house has now surpassed that in Sydney generally. In Western Sydney, in Parramatta the median rent is now $500 a week compared to $470 for Sydney wide. It's a crisis in Western Sydney. We've got 24.5 per cent of rental households under stress and 12 per cent of homeowners under mortgage stress. In six years you'd think the government would have thought, 'Gee, we really should do something about that.'

A bit of scandal, a bit of gossip going around on the outside are no excuse for a government not doing its job when it comes to these things. This appropriation bill should be an exciting document. It should be moving Australia into the future, but it's not. Gossip has taken over, and this government has ceased to function. (Time expired)