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Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Page: 776


Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (16:46): Thank you, Deputy Speaker Vasta, for the opportunity to speak in favour of these appropriation bills before us in advance of the budget in 42 days time or thereabouts and maybe 88 days before the next election. I mention those numbers because there is a clearer picture emerging not just of the economy in the immediate aftermath of the worst of the pandemic—the very difficult summer that Australians have been asked by those opposite to endure—but of much of the last decade in terms of the economy and, particularly, the economic mismanagement of those opposite and their failure to manage the economy in the interests of ordinary working families. That clearer picture, which is emerging after almost a decade now of Liberal-National governance, is of an economy which had its share of challenges even before the pandemic—flatlining productivity, weak business investment, stagnant wages, job insecurity, flatlining living standards and substandard economic growth well below average. Then we entered the pandemic, and the difficulties of the pandemic turbocharged so many of those issues that ordinary working people were confronting in the economy that was being mismanaged so badly by those opposite.

Now, as we hopefully emerge from the worst of the pandemic, as many economists expect the economy to recover and hopefully recover not just strongly but sustainably and broadly, a recovery in the economy that works for everyone, it is an important time to take stock of the price ordinary Australians have been asked to pay for the mistakes made in pandemic management and economic management by those opposite and their failure to understand that you can't have a healthy economy or a healthy recovery without healthy people. That's why we've had these false dawns and false starts in the economy. It's why the Treasurer, three or four or five times now, has said the economy is about to come roaring back and, because of something those opposite have failed to do, that recovery has been cruelled. We don't want to see that happen again because so much is at stake, and Australians have already paid a hefty enough price for the mistakes made by those opposite.

As we try and recover strongly and sustainably, and broadly and inclusively, from the first recession in three decades and the false starts of the immediate aftermath of the recession, the budget has a really important role to play. That's why these appropriations bills are important things for this House to consider. I think the most important aspect of all that is to remember that the quantity of spending matters a great deal when it comes to the appropriation of taxpayer money—but so does the quality of the spending. One of the concerns we've raised repeatedly about a budget which has $1 trillion of debt—multiples of what those opposite inherited from Labor—is that that budget is absolutely riddled with rorts and absolutely chock-full of waste. This is the most wasteful government since Federation, with every rort and bit of waste signed off by the Treasurer, the member for Kooyong, and the cabinet that sits opposite. The quantity of spending matters, but the quality of spending matters as well, and this budget, which has a trillion dollars of debt, is full of rorts which have been signed off by the Treasurer.

Just today out of estimates, we heard more about the scandal that is the community safety program, with the absolutely shameless rorting of a program which is supposed to keep our community safe and, for example, ensure that people can practice their faith safely—but not just that. We heard about the shameless rorting and redirecting of that money, in the same way that we've seen with car park rorts, with sports rorts, with dodgy land deals and with the tens of billions of dollars wasted on JobKeeper for businesses that had rising revenue already. Right across the board, we see these shameful, shameless rorts from those opposite.

We saw more of that today with this community safety program. My absolutely outstanding colleague from Eden-Monaro asked the Prime Minister why the billions of dollars that he had committed to bushfire relief in her community and next door in the member for Gilmore's community hadn't been spent. Shamefully, out of $4.8 billion or something like that, not a single cent has been committed. So that is really the juxtaposition here. If there's an advantage to be gained in a marginal seat by rorting taxpayer funds, the money is sprayed around like you wouldn't believe. If people are living in caravans and struggling to recover from bushfires more than two years ago now then, once the cameras leave, the Prime Minister doesn't want to know about them. Once again, he's there when the cameras are there. He's there for the photo-op and the slick marketing and spin. He even made a fundraising video for the Liberal Party out of one of those visits with the military. But, as soon as the cameras leave, the Prime Minister is nowhere to be found. That speaks volumes about the priorities of those opposite when it comes to the budget. People are abandoned in their hour of need.

That's part of the reason why we had that stunning result in the Bega by-election at the state level. Those opposite want to pretend that there are no lessons to be learned from that. At a political level, that's fine by us, but nationally we need a Prime Minister who understands the hurt that people in those communities feel. They don't want to be abandoned by a prime minister who's always there for the marketing opportunity but not for Australians in their hour of need. That Bega by-election, the issues around bushfire relief and the fact that people are still living in caravans years after the event speak volumes about a prime minister who doesn't listen. He doesn't listen to the people of Bega on the weekend. He doesn't learn from his mistakes. He doesn't do his job. He's not there when people desperately need his help.

So this country needs a leader who shows up, takes responsibility and doesn't spend all of his time pretending that if something bad happens it's somebody else's fault and if something good happens it's somehow all his doing. That drives people wild, especially in communities doing it so tough, like the communities of the member for Eden-Monaro and the member for Gilmore. When he was asked about it, he engaged in a bizarre election advertisement for Andrew Constance—who is probably not really that keen to be stapled to the Prime Minister right now, but we'll leave that for him to deal with.

The country needs a prime minister who does his job. It needs a cabinet whose members don't leak and turn on each other—and we'll hear more about that in a few minutes time. It needs a treasurer who does his job rather than spending all of his time preening, spinning, self-promoting, gazing lovingly at himself in the mirror and auditioning for the leadership. We need a treasurer who does his job. We have a lightweight treasurer in a heavyweight role, and that is a big problem. That's why we see these big mistakes made when it comes to economic management by those opposite. It's why we've had these false starts in the recovery. It's why we've had tens of billions of dollars wasted by the most wasteful government since Federation. It's why there are all these rorts. It's why we have job insecurity, skills shortages and flatlining productivity. It's why we haven't had the business investment we need. It's why we've missed our opportunities on cleaner and cheaper energy. All of this stuff, in one way or another, goes back to the fact that the Treasurer of this country and the Prime Minister—to be fair to the Treasurer—both spend all of their time marketing and none of their time managing the economy in the interests of ordinary working families and communities like the ones that we represent on this side of the House.

Instead of doing his job, the Treasurer, we've learned, spends all of his time trawling through the rubbish bins of a share house that the Leader of the Opposition may or may not have lived in 31 years ago; trawling the Greens website, as he told us in question time yesterday; and poring over our transcripts with his little yellow highlighter. He spends all of his time worrying about what Labor says and what the press gallery upstairs are thinking about and none of his time worrying about how ordinary people are faring in real communities right around Australia. That is the issue.

After all of this, you'd think the very least he could do is organise a decent scare campaign. But today we had this extraordinary, humiliating spectacle: the whole scare campaign that the Treasurer has been trying to run against the Labor Party, for not even a fortnight now, has been torpedoed by the member for Mackellar, Mr Falinski, who appeared in a story today headlined 'Liberal MP backs inheritance tax rise'. He absolutely torpedoed the scare campaign the Treasurer is trying to run. There is only one major party figure in this parliament who is pushing for a death tax, and it's a Liberal member of this parliament. You can't make this stuff up.

You can imagine my glee this morning when I opened up the Financial Review to read that the Treasurer is being humiliated once again—that happens quite frequently. The nature of the humiliation is extremely satisfying. I cannot tell you how happy I was as I went for my little run around the lake this morning, in advance of jumping up on Radio National, to read that there is a major party person saying there should be a death tax—it's the member for Mackellar. You can imagine that his phone started ringing quite early as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said, 'You're ruining our scare campaign.' So that was quite satisfying.

The butterfingers of Australian politics, the Treasurer of Australia, cannot even manage a half-decent scare campaign. No wonder he can't deal with the skyrocketing cost of living, declining real wages or $1 trillion of debt and a budget full of rorts. He can't even organise a scare campaign where the wheels don't fall off within barely a week and a half of starting it. What a humiliation for the butterfingers of Australian politics. His scare campaign has come crashing down around him in a humiliating—but, from our point of view, satisfying—fashion because it says it all about the shallowness of the lightweight Treasurer trying his best to appear to be doing a heavyweight job.

I think the people of Australia are working this government out. They are working the Prime Minister out. He never shows up, he never takes responsibility, he always blames others and he is always seeking to divide this country when it desperately needs unity, when it desperately needs to come together in the aftermath of the first recession in three decades. It needs to come together. We've got a divisive leader who wants to play politics on national security and the economy—these ridiculous, unhinged scare campaigns that we've seen from the dispatch box over the course of the last week in particular. The Australian people are working this Treasurer out and they're working this Prime Minister out. They know that the cabinet is at war with itself, they know that the Prime Minister is temperamentally incapable of leading and they know that the Treasurer is temperamentally incapable of understanding what life is like for real people in real communities.

But it is not only the Australian people who've worked the Treasurer out. The Financial Review has made a good contribution today on the Liberal plan for a death tax and, over a period of time now, has really given us a good sense of the Treasurer. I have some 'greatest hits' from Joe Aston at the Financial Review. Let's go to some of the things that have been written about the Treasurer in the last few months. Joe Aston writes:

It is actually quite confronting to watch the Treasurer of Australia so out of his depth.

He talks about a Treasurer 'whose powers of argument are extraordinarily underdone'. In a story titled 'Frydenberg fires JobKeeper missile at himself', he talks about how the Treasurer 'has completely missed the point, as he so often does'. He says:

Like the kind of buffoon once played by Leslie Neilsen, Josh Frydenberg has fired a heat-seeking missile at himself.

He talks about 'a bizarre and lame outburst' from the Treasurer. He talks about a Treasurer 'lighter than helium', a Treasurer 'who has misspent more public money than any elected official in the Commonwealth'. Another piece is titled 'Josh Frydenberg sustains full-body gravel rash'. He calls him 'the dolt from Kooyong'. He says:

Frydenberg's humiliation is total. His complete lack of political judgment has been exposed for all to see. He would be profoundly embarrassed, were he capable of embarrassment.

…   …   …

Even in defeat, the Treasurer was embarrassing himself. His was the press release of a student councillor …

He says:

Frydenberg can memorise artless debating points but his advocacy disintegrates when it collides with any policy complexity or requires any verifiable detail. Because he is lighter than helium.

He says:

He's been a cabinet minister for six years now, and deputy leader for three. Why does he still crave this lightweight celebrity nonsense?

Amen, Joe Aston! He continued:

We'll say it again. The Treasurer wishes to be taken as a person of substance yet seems incapable of behaving like one.

It goes on and on and on. It would entertain us to read all of it out, but we wouldn't have the time before the parliament needs to adjourn.

My point is this: there are lots of challenges in the economy and we need a heavyweight treasurer doing a heavyweight job. Instead, we've a guy who spends all of his time gazing at himself lovingly in the mirror, self-promoting, rehearsing his rubbish little scare campaigns which get torpedoed by the backbench, and all this sort of stuff. We need a treasurer who takes the challenges in our economy seriously. We need a prime minister who shows up and takes responsibility, like the member for Grayndler would if he were the Prime Minister. We've had almost 10 years of these characters. They've got a record of failure on the economy, and it's time that Australia turns that around. It will only turn that around with a new government.

Debate adjourned.