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Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Page: 56


Mr BYRNE (Holt) (17:34): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No.4) 2020-2021, which provide appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the annual services of government for the remainder of 2021. I do so within the context of how our nation should proceed with the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. I was reflecting on this. I remember having a discussion with a member of the government at the first iteration of the coronavirus—when it first showed itself here in this country and first manifested itself in a way that brought itself to the public attention. We spoke about the government response and what might happen to this country after that. We knew that our country, as a consequence of this pandemic, had changed, and will change, irrevocably, in ways I don't think we could possibly imagine. I think we're still trying to see and determine what has happened to our country. It's like a gigantic rock has been thrown into a pond and we're trying to gauge the reverberations of the pandemic on our society and our community, and the actions of our government.

In that discussion I had with the member of the government, I said that, given the sacrifices that we were about to ask the Australian community to make, we had an opportunity to reimagine Australia, to reboot Australia, to put a vision forward of Australia—an Australia that could be, not just the Australia that was. And what we did and watched, post March 2020, was Australians making the sacrifice that governments called upon them to make to keep each other and our country safe in peaceful ways, in ways of common sacrifice and communal sacrifice that we perhaps haven't seen in other countries in the world. We asked people to do things in this country that they haven't done before; and they did so, primarily peacefully, for the common good. In that contract, given what we had asked them to do, given the sacrifices that we had asked them to make, we would have imagined and created a better future for this country. Politics wouldn't have been the normal form of politics. We would see a newer country, a reimagined country. We would have, as the previous speaker said, a debate about the big issues, the big picture, the way forward—Australia's national identity, its place in the world, the future, what we might imagine ourselves to be.

After what we have seen in the past four weeks can anyone say we have reimagined Australia? Really? Have we? Do you think that what we have seen under this gigantic flag and flag pole does justice to the millions of Australians who made a sacrifice during the COVID pandemic? Do you think that they think our parliament's become more accountable as a consequence of the COVID pandemic? Do you think that they think we've become more transparent? Do you think that they think we've become less arrogant? Do you think that they think we have a future, that we've sat and dictated a future, that we've created a better future for those people who locked themselves away in homes for months on end, who didn't see their families for months on end, who couldn't attend the funerals of loved ones, who couldn't attend weddings? We asked them to stop doing the things that made them human. Does the community think that we have honoured the sacrifices that have been made by the Australian people?

No, we have not—not at all. We've done a disservice to our country and to the Australian people, and we have to do better. We've asked the Australian community to make the sacrifices. They've fulfilled their part of the bargain; they've made their sacrifice. We, as leaders of the community and as people that represent the community, have to reflect their will and imagine a better future for them. We have to point a way towards a better future for them, create that better future for them, give the incentives to them and give a clear direction to them. We don't and we haven't; particularly this government hasn't.

I'm not going to make this a party political speech. I remember being attracted to politics because of the vision of Australia that was put forward in particular by Paul Keating when he was Treasurer of this nation and by Bob Hawke when he was Prime Minister of this country. I remember being inspired as a young man by the changes that were wrought by Gough Whitlam—universal education, a universal health system and a whole swathe of social changes that made it easier for Australians to succeed, to prosper and to be more equal. We created an equality of opportunity for all. We liberated the economy in the eighties. We created a new class—the entrepreneurial class, if you like. I remember being very proud of that. I really did think, in watching what we had asked again and what this government had done, that we would see similar great reforms of this country being put forward—new manufacturing, new resilience. I've heard the terms; I've had the discussions. We need new resilient supply chains. I've heard it. Do you think many Australians in the outer suburbs would know what really is being done in terms of the new form of employment and the new economy? What are we doing? I tell you what Australians are confronting at the present time. We have many businesses—and I see this in the outer suburbs—which are on survival mode and which may well close after Easter, and many more Australians may become unemployed. I know in the coming weeks and months ahead that many sectors of the economy, especially small business, will be struggling to ensure that jobs are maintained and that businesses can remain viable once JobKeeper is withdrawn—and it will be withdrawn quickly—from the economy. We know that international borders are not going to be opening any time soon, so we're going to need to provide much more support to Australians in that section of the economy.

The COVID-19 recovery will last at least a decade, and it should provide us with an opportunity to invest in the future of Australia. The question we've got to continue to ask ourselves is: do we want to be simply a mining and energy-producing nation that has a vibrant service sector or could we expand the Australian economy to be dynamic and diverse and be a world leader in sectors like the global technological revolution and the arts? As former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said recently at the National Press Club:

With technology re-writing the rules of economic competition around the world, why aren't we inventing, innovating and commercializing our own breakthroughs at scale - in IT, bio-technology and artificial intelligence, using our deep capital markets established by three decades of compulsory superannuation.

Why have our rates of R&D investment and research commercialisation plummeted when the rest of the OECD is headed north? Our failure to make Australia an essential part of the global technology revolution will turn us into a second-tier economy faster than we think.

We have an opportunity with this great global economic transformation and upheaval that is being undertaken and that has happened as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic to fully participate in new disruptive technologies, particularly when Asia continues to play a central role. We can't allow that to just pass us by. I want to give an example of this, and it does tie into Australia and how we see ourselves. It relates to Screen Producers Australia who recently came to parliament to lobby for more support for the Australian film and television industry. The film and television industry was obviously lobbying the Morrison government to impose a 20 per cent local content quota on Netflix and other streaming giants, saying that the measure could sustain as many as 10,000 jobs once the recent flurry of Hollywood interest dissipates.

I had the privilege of meeting a delegation of local actors and producers—Simon Baker, Marta Dusseldorp, Bryan Brown and Justine Clark—who were basically talking about this temporary boom that we have with foreign companies coming in as a passing sugar hit. That is what Simon Baker said. What we need in fact, what Simon said, is to help develop a richer, stronger, more potent Australian voice.

This ties into my perspective about reimagining Australia. I fully support the plan to impose a 20 per cent local content quota on Netflix and other streaming giants. We do need to hold the power of tech giants like Netflix to account to ensure that Australians and the world can continue to enjoy Australian film and content. That was driven home to me specifically when I saw a movie recently that was filmed in the Victorian Wimmera called The Dry. It has certainly become one of my favourite Australian movies. Talking to some of the actors and talking to the Australian people who have gone to see it, particularly in the outer suburbs, a number of people said it reminds us of who we are.

You might think why am I talking about arts? Why am I talking about actors? Why am I talking about the film industry, the acting industry and the theatre industry? Because arts define who we are as a country. Arts define who we are as a people. They are a mirror to the national soul of a people.

The fact that this government allowed that, that expression of the Australian soul and its spirit, to wither at the vine during this crisis says a lot about the priorities of this government. When I asked members of the actors guild about how many actors were employed during the coronavirus pandemic—and we understand that there were restrictions—they said three per cent. Three per cent of Australian actors were employed during the coronavirus pandemic. That is a disgrace.

We saw governments move at light speed with respect to certain things and certain industries. The sporting industry is classic case in point. I am sorry, but I actually think the arts industry is as important as the sports industry. Does it generate as much revenue as a local AFL game?—I am a great AFL supporter—no, it doesn't. But do we need the arts industry to survive because it is an essential conduit, it is an essential window, it is an essential part of defining who we are as an Australian people? Of course we do. The fact that I was just gobsmacked by was the fact that I watched it basically being allowed to wither at the vine.

It's really important that we continue to discuss who we are because what things like the arts, the film industry and the TV industry do is they help sustain us. People were talking about how they were binge watching Netflix, Amazon Prime—a whole range of things—and a lot of people were saying they were going back to old Australian TV series. Why do you think that might have been? Because it shows you a window into a time, into a society that defines itself. As we continue to transition out we need to talk again about who we are. We need to provide a national direction. As a country we need to talk about the industries of the future and invest in them in tangible ways, ways that people can hold onto, because there isn't a lot that they can hold onto at the present period of time in this sea of uncertainty that has been created. We need to provide them and this government needs to provide them with a direction, with an idea, with an Australia that could become. I believe—and I am in furious agreement with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott—that Australia's best days are yet to come. Let's use this opportunity of COVID-19 to imagine and create that future, not throw Australia up against a wall.