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Wednesday, 9 February 2022
Page: 122


Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (10:16): Thanks very much, Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on these appropriations bills. What they do is: they allocate just over $5 billion—$5.2 billion—for the purposes of a combination of some health measures and some support payments. That is, I think, especially relevant for the House, as we obviously support the appropriation of public funds, as we have consistently. It will be also particularly interesting to colleagues in the House, to honourable members. That is because, as they will recall, as certainly we on this side of the House recall, when the government handed down the mid-year budget update in December, they had that $16 billion set aside for measures that they wouldn't tell us about—obviously, $16 billion of slush funds to serve their political purposes in the lead-up to the election. When we pointed that out at the time, the government said, 'Oh, no, no; it's not all that.' They didn't say, 'It's none of that'; they said: 'It's not all that; it's actually making provision for some health payments that we might need to make, some investments, whether in testing or some other aspect of the health response to the pandemic, and it's a contingency for supporting people through the pandemic.' What these appropriation bills actually show is that that was complete and utter rubbish, because the $5.2 billion before us today for the House to consider comes off the bottom line. It's not any part of the $16 billion in slush funds that the government announced in the mid-year budget update. The very good reason for that, or the very clear reason for that—it's not a good reason, but a clear reason, an easy-to-understand reason—is that that $16 billion, true to form, is to spray around marginal seats in a wasteful way to serve their political interests rather than the national economic interest.

We support these appropriations—those for health, obviously, and the support payments, and we've obviously led the debate there as well. So we support these payments. But it's really clear that that $16 billion has been left—true to form, from the most wasteful government since Federation. They'll be spraying that $16 billion around—don't you worry about that! They've got three months to go between now and the next election, and they've got that $16 billion slush chest to spray around marginal seats, and this appropriation bill shows that that is the case.

Today we're dealing with the aged-care crisis, the House will consider the religious discrimination bills at some point and there's a whole range of issues around skyrocketing costs of living and the fact that real wages are going backwards—there's a whole range of really important issues, many of them left more or less unattended for the last eight or nine years of this government.

So, of course, the government, via Senator Birmingham, puts on the front page of the Australian today another ridiculous scare campaign about Labor and spending. I tell you what—and I think Senator Gallagher made this point very well in the media today—we are not taking lectures about budget responsibility from the most wasteful government since Federation. This is a government that is taxing more than any other government in the last 30 years, apart from the Howard government, and spraying that money around in an incredibly wasteful fashion. We've seen waste, we've seen rorts and we've seen corrupted processes, which make this government the most wasteful government since Federation.

The examples are everywhere. If you think about the tens of billions of dollars in JobKeeper given to companies that didn't need it because their profits were actually going up rather than down, if you think about the billions of dollars it will cost to dump the French submarine project, if you think about the 23 slush funds set up in the last budget alone, the billion dollars in government advertising, the sneaky grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the settlement payments for the robodebt debacle, the dodgy land deals, the sports rorts, the regional rorts, the car parks—I've got 25 minutes left, but I will need longer to go through all the rorts, waste and corrupted processes that this government have engaged in, in their almost decade-long time in office. So we won't be taking lectures from them, the most wasteful government since Federation, about budget responsibility.

This is a government which had doubled the debt prior to the pandemic. This is a government that has racked up a trillion dollars in debt, with barely anything to show for it. This is a government which has delivered more consecutive deficits than any government since the 1920s. It's almost 100 years since a government has handed down eight consecutive budget deficits like this government has.

Central to that wasteful approach is the $16 billion slush fund. When they came out with the midyear update, they basically announced $16 billion in slush for pork-barrelling before the election. They said there'll be cuts somewhere down the track, but they won't tell us what they will be before the election—slush before the election, secret cuts after the election. We will not be taking lectures from those opposite when it comes to the scare campaigns like the one we read in the Australian today, which is just a desperate distraction from their failure to manage the pandemic, to manage the economy and to manage aged care and their failure to understand that a healthy economy and a healthy recovery require healthy people.

Obviously, as the economy recovers from the worst part of firstly the recession and then the downturn last year, courtesy of the government's failure to manage the pandemic effectively in relation to testing, tracing, quarantine or vaccines, we want the economy to recover strongly and quickly. Many expect that it will, but we need to make sure that it's a recovery that works for everyone. We need to get the right kind of economic growth. We can't go back to all the wage stagnation, job insecurity and economic insecurity which have been the defining features of this government's economic mismanagement for the best part of a decade now. There is an alternative approach here. If we invest in cleaner and cheaper energy, if we invest in modernising the NBN, if we invest in cheaper, more accessible child care, if we invest in free TAFE and more university places to deal with skills shortages, if we have a future made in Australia, based on a national reconstruction fund and some of the infrastructure investments that my colleague here at the table has been working hard to stack up—these are the ways to grow the economy the right way into the future so that ordinary working people can get a look in and can hope for something more than a return to all the insecurity that has marked the last decade of those opposite in office.

These appropriations bills will be supported by the House. We support investment in health and in support payments. But we would like to see an end to the waste and rorts and corrupted processes which have led to a trillion dollars in debt, with not enough to show for it. We can do better than that. We can have a recovery and an economy that works for everyone, but not if we continue down the path that those opposite have had us on for the best part of a decade. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes these bills are a result of the Government's failure to properly prepare and plan for the COVID-19 pandemic".

The DEPUTY S PEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the amendment seconded?

Ms Catherine King: The amendment is seconded, and I reserve my right to speak.