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Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Page: 447


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (09:56): I rise to speak on Supply Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023 and Supply Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, as well as Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023. These bills are required to ensure continuity of government for the 2022-23 financial year, and Labor supports these bills. In supporting these bills, I'd like to make a few short remarks.

Those opposite have been in power for almost a decade. That's nearly ten years that they've had to act on some of the pressures that are clearly here with us now. They take their lead from their Prime Minister. Apparently, you've got to wait for a problem to become a crisis before you can act and wait until wages haven't just flatlined but actually gone backwards, leaving the average worker hundreds of dollars worse off, before you can do anything about it. It's never meaningful action once a problem has become a crisis, is it? They don't have the vision to come up with a plan that will help Australians for the long term. It's all about political management with the Morrison government: short-term fixes and one-off payments to get through the media cycle, or, in this case, the next election.

This is a government that is long on politics but short on plans, and this budget is just another example of that. What are they doing about the crisis that remains in aged care? They are saying, 'Oh, there's a one-off payment for staff, that's it,' and making no real commitment to implement the findings of the royal commission, including on minimum staffing levels. On wages they've come up short 52 of the 55 times they've presented wage forecasts, but they want us to believe that this time they really mean it—and, still, wages in this financial year go backwards.

What they've handed down in this document is a bandaid, not a budget for the future. All the announcements in the world can't cover up the fact that, over the course of this term in office, they have tucked billions of dollars away in slush funds that they will rort all the way to the election, and there's no reason for us to believe that this budget is anything different. With nearly $1 trillion in debt and deficits for as far as the eye can see, the only thing that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have their eyes on is how they can hide billions in the budget to pork-barrel their way through the election and save their political lives.

The Safer Communities Fund got a top-up last night. We know that this is one of the government's favourite funds to rort. Ninety-one per cent of round 3 funding went to the coalition's target seats. We wonder how much of that $50 million top-up is going to be distributed genuinely, or is it just going to happen in the same way that we saw 77 per cent of the Commuter Car Park Fund funnelled into coalition seats, the Building Better Regions Fund rorts and the sports rorts? There are so many examples of this government using the budget as the Liberal Party's own re-election fund. Is this really a budget for everyone, or is it a budget for those who live in the electorates where Mr Morrison wants to pick up votes? No wonder they have not funded the federal anticorruption commission Mr Morrison promised over 1,200 days ago. With these kinds of statistics, I'm not surprised they're worried about what it might find.

That's not to mention the colossal waste we've seen at the hands of this Prime Minister and his Treasurer. Over half a billion dollars has gone out the door to major consultancy companies in just the first eight months of this financial year alone. There was $20 billion in JobKeeper that went to companies whose revenue increased during COVID: that's $20 billion. Billions of dollars went on a second-rate NBN blow-out. Billions were spent on the submarine deal with the French before it was cancelled, and damages are still to come. There was $6 million on the COVIDSafe app, which didn't work. The list goes on and on.

One of the most concerning things in this year's budget that there hasn't been much discussion on yet, though I expect there will be, is the $3 billion of hidden cuts forecast for after the election. What we see from the government—and it sums up their approach around political fixes versus governing for everybody—is that there's a big load of expenditure this side of the election and then secret cuts to services after the election. We don't know what they are. This morning, when asked, the Treasurer didn't know what they were either—or just wasn't telling us. That's $3 billion. Is it cuts to Medicare? Is it cuts to payments? Is it cuts to the Great Barrier Reef? Who knows? We have no idea where these cuts are going to be made.

What we do know is that they come in after the election. That's what this Prime Minister's done. That's what this Treasurer has done in this budget. He's said: 'Here's a bandaid to get us through the next two months, three months, four months. We're going to give you this. But, when the election's over, if we are to win, this is what we're actually really about.' These secret cuts have to be called out and the government need to explain what they are. They cannot sneak their way through an election campaign when their own budget documents show $3 billion is going to be cut from spending programs after the election. We need to know the answer now. It's not good enough to hide it in the decisions taken but not yet announced column of the budget. We saw what they did with that last time, when they hid $16 billion there: 'Oh, yes, we've made all these decisions; we're just not going to tell you until it politically suits us.' This is exactly the same thing that's happening here: 'In decisions taken but not yet announced, in the years following the election, we are going to cut services; we're just not going to tell you what they are.' It could be Medicare. It could be aged care. It could be the NDIS. Who knows? The Treasurer knows. The Prime Minister knows. The cabinet know, presumably, because they signed off on the budget. Nobody's talking about it.

With a few weeks to go before the election, we need to call this out and the government need to be upfront with what they have hidden in that part of the budget. We've cottoned on to it. Australians have cottoned on to it. They know they can't trust this government. They know that this government doesn't tell the truth. They know this Prime Minister doesn't tell the truth. They know it's all about marketing, quick fixes, never taking responsibility, never planning, never preparing and only managing a crisis in a media cycle. That's what this budget is: it's a political fix; it's not a plan for the future.

What Australians need is a plan for a better future, and that's what the Labor Party, under the leadership of Anthony Albanese, will offer and will campaign on and will deliver if we win government. And that's our plans to get wages moving, our plans on cheaper childcare, our plans on cheaper and cleaner energy and the jobs and economic opportunities that come with that, and our plans on free TAFE and skilling the nation after years of neglect that have left us in a situation where we have low unemployment and a massive skills mismatch across the country. That's because of the failure of this government to deal with the skills crisis in this country, which has led to the skills crisis through lack of planning. And most important for many Australians is how we deal with Medicare, how we guarantee Medicare, how we protect Medicare from this mob on the other side of the chamber. Strengthening Medicare and protecting Medicare is in Labor's DNA. We created it, we've protected it and we will continue to do so. We need to know whether the $3 billion in cuts that have been outlined in this budget, after the election, are about cutting peoples' access to Medicare. Until the government comes clean on that, that's what we will presume because they have got form on that. So I would challenge the government to come clean on what the $3 billion worth of cuts are.