House of Representatives
29 March 2022
I thank the member for Kingsford Smith for reading an important second reading amendment, particularly on budget night, when all eyes are on what the government's plans are, after almost 10 years, on some of the critical issues facing our nation. I want to focus on the eight parts to the second reading amendment. There are about three of them that I want to get through tonight—in particular, the skills and training investment piece, which is critical for the economy to grow and also for jobs and growth in my own community of the south-west suburbs of Brisbane and Ipswich. I'll also spend some time tonight focusing on the item before us as part of the second reading amendment to support Australians suffering from natural disasters and to enhance disaster mitigation. As a member of parliament who has had large numbers of their electorate impacted by the recent flooding, this is the first opportunity I've had to address the House this week about the critical needs of my community. So I will focus on some of the uplifting stories regarding the impacts of the floods that I want to place on record in today's debate. Obviously, I will be providing the outline for where I see the cost-of-living issues for Australian families—in particular, families in the Oxley electorate—who have struggled under this government due to the suppression of wages growth and also the lack of genuine economic reform by the government. This has had a major impact on the cost of living and is really hurting so many families that I represent.
As the shadow assistant minister has indicated, the package of bills contains seven minor Treasury measures. I find it interesting that, of all the bills the government is dealing with, they're giving priority to minor measures over the passage of vital economic reforms.
I will start, as part of the debate on the second reading amendment, on cost-of-living issues. This is a term that really has become white-hot in the Australian community over the last couple of weeks. We all know prices are going up, but pay packets are not. Under the Morrison government, whether it be petrol prices, whether it be the cost of groceries, whether it be the fact that rents are skyrocketing, working families are falling further and further behind. They are not staying the same. They are not getting ahead. They are falling behind. Whether there be cheaper child care, whether there be cheaper power bills, the most important thing is securing well-paid jobs, which are going to be critical to making sure that we deal with the cost-of-living issues.
On this side of the chamber, we've got a plan to boost productivity and build more things in Australia. The economic reality is thus: the only sustainable plan to boost wages is to boost productivity. How will we do that? Very simply by investing in skills, science and technology, apprenticeships and free TAFE. The shadow Treasurer has been putting those markers in the ground. Since day one, since he became Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, has been telling the Australian public exactly how we will do that.
Side by side with this is the crisis in housing. This bills tonight do nothing to address that. Coming up to a decade in power, the government has seen housing affordability get worse and worse. One of the most important things I think this parliament should have focused on in the wasted three years of this term is building more social and affordable housing. Only Labor will do this.
The legislation provides corporate tax relief, obviously, for things like the FIFA Women's World Cup to be held later this year, and this is of course something that we support. But it also reminds me and members of my community that the government's record on supporting women's sport is really nothing short of abysmal. This term of the parliament really has had it all. We had the sports rorts program, where wealthy clubs in ultra-safe Liberal and National Party seats were splashed with cash, while worthy women's sport clubs missed out on funding for upgrades to vital facilities.
The legislation establishes tax arrangements for Pacific workers who come to work in Australia, but this has only come about because the government has neglected our economic relationship with the Pacific for nine long years. As we know, the legislation sets out tax relief for people affected by Cyclone Seroja, and this is of course worthwhile, but it does nothing to help those Australians in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland affected by the horrific floods of recent weeks, which I will circle back to in my remarks tonight.
People across Australia are rightfully angry with the Morrison government. You need only to go into any bar or coffee shop or pub. Most Australians know that this Prime Minister is focused on the political optics over getting things done. While we are supporting these bills, it really is a painful reminder of the government's shameful priorities over what Australians really need.
Let me touch on the skills component of the second reading amendment and things like wages growth that actually keeps up with rises in the cost of living. We know that the government doesn't have a plan to deal with that. In this term we have also been exposed to the fact that the government, through the former finance minister, Mathias Cormann, said that suppressing wages was a deliberate design feature of the economy. Just think about that for a moment. The finance minister of this country said, 'We are going to keep wages low because that's how we're going to help the economy.'
I don't know any economist that thinks that's a pathway to economic success. I don't know if there are many families in Australia that you could go up to and say, 'You know what, we're going to keep your wages low because that's going to help the economy.' It's a nonsense. None of that makes sense at all. But the quote was 'a deliberate design feature of the economy'.
I'm really proud to be part of a political party—a major political party of government—that will secure well-paid jobs by investing in skills for Australia. You only need to go to a business in my electorate, in any of the growth suburbs of Wacol, Carole Park, Redbank Plains and Goodna, and walk into a business and say: 'How are you going? How's the business going?' They'll all say the same thing: 'It could be better, and we need to employ people.' We've got low unemployment rates of 3.8 per cent. Queensland is leading the way, with the Queensland government, to lower that unemployment rate. Yet there is still a shortage of workers in this country. So that's why we have a commitment to free TAFE and making sure that we create more university places to tackle the skill shortages that are holding back our economy, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under a future Albanese Labor government—if we're privileged to form government—people studying in an industry with a skills shortage will be supported through the provision of free TAFE. The $1.2 billion Future Made in Australia Skills Plan will focus on closing the gap on the key areas of skill shortages, with new places at universities and TAFE. In my electorate, we've seen around 1,480 apprentices lost over the last eight or so years. That's not stayed the same and that's not keeping up to scale. It's gone backwards, and that's just one electorate. No-one has ever explained why that is a good thing, because we all know that that's not a good thing.
If we are to have industry growth we've got to have kids going into apprenticeships. It would be okay if the government were saying: 'We want all kids to go to university. We don't want them in apprenticeships.' I get that, but it's getting harder and harder to go to university. So which one is it? You can't go to university, because you can't afford it, and you can't then get to do an apprenticeship, because they're drying up as well. One in four Australian businesses are experiencing critical skills shortages. Free TAFE will help rebuild industries hit hardest by the pandemic. Under our plan we'll focus on those areas which have critical shortages. Our made in Australia plan will close the gap and provide 465,000 free TAFE places, including 45,000 new TAFE places.
I want to speak briefly on the floods. I'm glad that my colleague and friend the member for Moreton is here. We share the same suburbs, which have been absolutely smashed by the floods. It was incredibly uplifting to see members of the community coming together, and the generosity that I witnessed was very humbling. I was inundated with requests from small businesses and people who wanted to help, particularly people in the Centenary suburbs and the businesses smashed there; the residential components in Oxley, which the suburb that I share with the member for Moreton; and also Goodna, which was a ground zero, flood impacted suburb in Queensland.
We needed leadership shown during that crisis and we did not see it. We saw the Prime Minister of Australia turn up to Brisbane. And what did he do? Did he walk into those houses at Rocklea or Oxley? I tell you what he did. He got a dust mop and cleaned a clean basketball court, and said, 'I'm here to help.' What absolute rubbish. That would be okay if he'd said to families in Oxley, 'I'm going to give you $3,000, like I did to people in the National Party electorate.' Instead, Queenslanders were left behind by a prime minister that doesn't get Queensland, has never understood Queensland and gets up today and goes, 'Oh well, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.'
I dare the Prime Minister to come down to Mill Street, Enid Street or Cox Crescent in Goodna and say to those people, 'You don't deserve $3,000, because you live in a Labor electorate.' That's exactly the explanation that people in my community are left with—no explanation why, when houses are completely devastated, completely and utterly destroyed, in the suburb of Goodna.
He doesn't set foot there and look those people in the eye. He doesn't explain to them why one electorate gets support—because it suits the political fortunes of the Prime Minister because the people happen to live in a National Party electorate—but they miss out because they live in a Labor electorate in Queensland. It's unacceptable. I will never stop fighting to make sure that my community get the same as everybody else.
I've never been prouder to be the federal member for Oxley. The strength and resilience in my community shown throughout the floods were outstanding, as was their willingness to do whatever they could to help others. Together we did our best to make sure no-one was left behind. In the immediate aftermath of the floods, Tony from the Middle Park Bakery would call me every morning and ask, 'What do you need?' A few hours later we'd have loads of breads and baked goods ready to send to recovery hubs and evacuation centres. Ramee from Big Pappa's Pizza put out the call on Facebook, 'Free pizzas for flood victims,' as they rebuilt their lives. Organisations like Baby Give Back pulled off an extraordinary donation drive for baby items and have helped many families who have lost everything. Pastor Phil Kennedy from Shiloh Church packed hampers of donated goods for those who were living without power. The Riverlife Baptist Church opened their doors to anyone and everyone who needed a place to go as the floodwater rose. Thank you, Pastor John Robertson, for your leadership. Just last week, the Kerwick Hotel held an afternoon of beers and celebration for the volunteers and flood victims that stood side by side for weeks rebuilding our community. I cannot forget Thiess Mining, who set up a free barbecue at the Goodna recovery centre for flood victims and volunteers.
As I said before, this crisis brought out the very best in our community as locals stepped up to take on leadership roles to help their neighbours and to keep everyone's morale high. Dan, known in the Goodna community as Dan the Mill Street man, set up a pop-up recovery hub on Mill Street with his family, one of the most impacted streets in Goodna. People like Frank, Wingy and Mama made the devastating reality of the floods just that little bit more bearable with their can-do attitude and good humour.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have worked alongside them in recovery. These people worked day and night to support their neighbours and friends. These people stood up and said, 'I'm here to help you.' It was an honour and a privilege to be their representative, to stand in the mud, to help these people get themselves back on their feet. When the sporting clubs, the infrastructure clubs and the community organisations were smashed, I know the member for Lilley, the member for Blair and the member for Moreton in Queensland were out there every single day supporting our residents and working alongside them. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done as the member for Oxley, but it's been the best thing I've ever witnessed, working alongside and supporting my community. I commend these bills to the House, and I call on the government to make sure our flooded communities are not left behind.