2020 Budget - Appropriations Bill No. 1
28 October 2020
I rise to speak on the Appropriations Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021. We have seen a lot of big numbers from this year's budget: a $213.7 billion deficit this financial year; $480 billion of cumulative deficits over the forward estimates; the budget in deficit every year for the next decade; net debt of $703.2 billion this year, growing to $966.2 billion at the end of the forward estimate; and gross debt currently over $800 billion, forecast to get to well over a trillion dollars over the forward estimates and peaking at $1.7 trillion over the decade. This budget will rack up a trillion dollars of debt but still leave Australians behind, especially Australians living outside of big cities. The budget doesn't do enough to create jobs and fails to build for the future.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on regional coastal communities like mine on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Figures from June 2020 show over 40 per cent of businesses on the Central Coast were receiving JobKeeper and, at the height of the pandemic, there were 36 jobseekers for every job vacancy. As of September, there are 17 jobseekers for every vacancy, still well above the national average, and nearly 20,000 people receiving JobSeeker on the Central Coast.
It's said we're all in this together when we're not. In some suburbs in my electorate there's been an increase in jobseeker recipients of over 95 per cent, and in no suburb was the increase less than 35 per cent. Local people are facing hardship and uncertainty, and this will get worse if the government cuts support too soon and if the government doesn't properly invest in a jobs-led recovery. Australians, especially those living in regional and remote Australia, will bear the brunt of the recession for years to come, and this will be particularly felt by younger people.
Before the pandemic the number of students completing TAFE courses in my electorate had dropped by 600 from when this government came to power. The government has announced, and we welcome, 100,000 new places for TAFE, but it's still 40,000 less than what they inherited from Labor in 2013. And under this government we've seen skill shortages, from welders, bricklayers, hairdressers to engineers. Australians, as I've mentioned, especially in the regions, especially young people living outside of big cities, deserve a properly funded public TAFE for when they're starting out, when they're changing jobs or when they need to reskill or upskill. It's critical.
The global pandemic has exposed the risk of being last in the worldwide supply chain and vulnerabilities in our supply chains. We've seen disruptions leading to shortages, and as a pharmacist this has particularly concerned me when it's led to shortages in critical and life-saving medicines. We need to invest in Australian manufacturing. Australia has a strong history and a proud track record of building and creating our own, and that's what we need to do now. On the Central Coast in my electorate there were just under a thousand manufacturing businesses before the pandemic. At one end, there are 430 sole traders—the people like my brother, a plumber—through to the 70-plus businesses that employ between 20 and just under 200 people.
The Central Coast is known for food manufacturing. Businesses like Sanitarium and MasterFoods call the Central Coast their home, and I'm really proud to say that the Central Coast Food Alliance, since its launch in September 2019, has really worked to raise the profile of the Central Coast as a thriving food hub. The government—and I welcome it—has promised in the budget investment in food manufacturing. I'll be pushing really hard to make sure that the Central Coast and other regions like ours get their fair share, because the Central Coast has a track record and the know-how and the people to be part of a manufacturing jobs-led recovery, and that's what we really need to see in my community.
Australia needs a plan for good, secure jobs, especially for people that live outside of the big cities, especially for young people in regional and remote Australia. As part of a 'future made in Australia' plan, Labor has announced the Australian Skills Guarantee. On every worksite receiving major government funding, one out of 10 workers employed will be an apprentice, a trainee or a cadet. It reminds me of when my dad started out. He grew up in public housing, he'd never met someone who'd been to university and he was able to get a cadetship with what was then the Department of Main Roads. That allowed him to start his career as a civil structural engineer. It gave him a start in life that he would not otherwise have had. So I have a strong personal interest in this. We really need to rebuild public TAFE. We need to provide a pathway to secure jobs and we also need through a skills guarantee to make sure that when someone has those skills that they have a start, that they've a foothold, that they can make a start in a steady career.
I want to turn now to infrastructure. The Central Coast is a growing community, and our region has a backlog of major infrastructure projects. It's a popular place for people to live—for young families, for older people. What we don't have and what has been overlooked is the infrastructure to support our growing communities. Investment in infrastructure should be central to the post-COVID recovery across Australia and in the regions. Instead, the coast has been left off the Liberal and Nationals infrastructure list. The Central Coast hasn't had a major infrastructure project since the M1 upgrade, which was kickstarted when Labor was last in government under the then Labor minister for infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. But locals in my community have been overlooked again. The government's original Central Coast Roads Package, which was worth just under $70 million and was welcome, gave 94 per cent of funding to the Liberal-held seat of Robertson, and, according to a breakdown, as recently as March one street in Saratoga in the Robertson electorate received more funding than the whole of my electorate of Dobell. Of course we welcome road funding; it's critical in our community to get people around the coast home safe, but it needs to be fair. We also need to see, in the growth area, which is particularly in the north, more investment in road funding to clear the backlog and to accommodate the growing community.
The Liberals promised to spend $26.7 million of this funding last year, but they've only spent $4.5 million. It's one thing to announce, but it's another thing to follow through. And that's what we need: money into the economy now, particularly local economies. I don't know why this funding was skewed towards Robertson and why the government is behind in these critical projects. Recently, the government announced another $16.7 million as part of the package, but it's unclear which road projects will be funded. The government needs to be upfront, and the community needs to know when their local roads are going to be upgraded and why they haven't been so far. This backlog has to be cleared.
I want to turn now to universities, particularly to the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle in my electorate. The University of Newcastle has a proud history of both equity and excellence, and at Ourimbah campus it runs some of the oldest and largest enabling programs in the country. These are programs that give people a fair go, that give them a shot at higher education which they wouldn't otherwise have. And, importantly, these programs are debt free. Over the past 45 years, over 60,000 students have successfully completed an enabling program like Newstep or Open Foundation. What I'm concerned about is the government's job-ready graduates bill, which is removing funding from enabling programs from the Commonwealth Grant Scheme and replacing it with the Indigenous, Regional and Low SES Attainment Fund. What the local universities are concerned about and what they've said is that, under current advice, up to 60 per cent of their enabling students would miss out on funding under this program, and, if the money wasn't available to fund enabling programs, those students may not fit neatly into the equity categories of low SES or Indigenous or regional students.
This is a real concern because the loss of secure funding for enabling programs is a risk particularly to vulnerable students—students who haven't had the best start in life, whose circumstances mean that they haven't had a fair go at education. The university's own survey suggests that about 80 per cent of enabling students couldn't start if fees were introduced, so we have to make sure that that doesn't happen for people like Sharon, in my electorate. She's 40 now and she had to leave school to help care for her mother and her two younger sisters. At 33, after starting her own family, she decided that it was her chance to go to university and she enrolled in Open Foundation, and she says it changed her life. She studied with mature-age students who'd come through similar difficulties and backgrounds, and she discovered her own love of learning. She completed her Open Foundation course and went onto a Bachelor of Education, and she's got a scholarship to finish her PhD. It's for people like Sharon, whose only shot at higher education was through enabling education, that we have to keep them debt free and not shut the door on people before they even start. I was recently at Ourimbah campus with Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and we met Georgia, who's studying law; Siena, who's studying nursing; and Nathaniel, who's studying teaching, and they're only studying today because of enabling programs. And do you know what they all said? They want to do enabling programs because they want to help other people who've grown up like them, who didn't get a fair go.
Speaking of a fair go, this budget doesn't have a proper plan for child care. Families were already paying higher childcare fees before the pandemic, with out-of-pocket costs soaring to sometimes more than seven per cent in one year. And, in the middle of a recession, when parents are relying on home load deferrals or rent moratoriums as well as sometimes JobKeeper or JobSeeker to get by, childcare fees will be out of reach for many people. Affordable child care increases workforce participation; it means more parents, mostly women, can take up job opportunities or increase their hours, which grows the economy as well as supports young people's learning. This is why Labor is looking at a working family childcare boost, to kickstart the economy and boost workforce participation, and under our plan 97 per cent of all families will save money, with no family being worse off.
I want to turn now to aged care. In my community on the Central Coast one in five people are aged over 65, which is higher than the state and national averages. It's a popular place for older people to live. As at 30 June, 1,105 people on the coast were still waiting for home-care packages. Over the past 12 months in my electorate three aged-care homes have closed or partially closed—Henry Kendall, the high-care dementia unit at The Orchards and Japara at Wyong.
On 22 September Anthony Albanese came to my electorate to visit an aged-care home to hear aged-care workers' concerns and learn from their firsthand experience on the frontline of the pandemic. Aged-care workers were really concerned that those on the frontline of COVID are not really recognised by the government. They have said to me that the time for applause and cupcakes is over. They really need proper support, whether that means access to PPE or training. These people are dedicated, capable and working really hard, but they aren't recognised. All workers in aged care deserve the retention bonus, not just some. I'm not sure why some are being carved out and others are being left behind. As they said, the time for applause and cupcakes is over. They need to be properly recognised.
That leads me to social housing. We know in New South Wales that over 31,000 people are homeless and another 36,558 people are at risk of homelessness. I used to work in mental health inpatient units and sometimes we would see people come in because they just needed a safe place, a shower, a hot meal and a rest. Hospitals shouldn't be a place of last resort for someone who doesn't have a bed for the night.
On the Central Coast each night there are 2,900 people homeless. We would like to see the government right now repair social housing. About 25 per cent of the social housing stock in Australia needs urgent repair. That would give people secure and safe places to live that aren't full of mould and don't have unsafe bathrooms and kitchens. At the same time it would create jobs. In my electorate there are 2,500 businesses working in construction. At the same time you're creating secure and safe housing for people you're creating jobs and stimulus in the economy. Investing in social housing is a win-win. I think the government really needs to take it up.
I'll finish now by turning to mental health, an area where I have a background and passion. Labor has welcomed the government's additional investment in mental health, but we haven't seen yet a Productivity Commission report tabled. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to really reform mental health and to look at mental health in all portfolios. Where you're born, live and grow up has a profound effect on your health and wellbeing. In order to reform mental health we need to look beyond the provision of health services and look at housing, the workforce and justice. The pandemic has had a big impact on mental health across Australia, and my community is no exception.
Yesterday I co-hosted a youth mental health roundtable with Liesl Tesch, the state member for Gosford, and Tara Moriarty, the New South Wales shadow minister for mental health. We heard from locals on the front line—Lester Pearson from Save our Kids; Dr Ash Bowden, an emergency doctor; and Rhonda Wilson from Arafmi. A common sentiment was that they felt disillusioned and overwhelmed by bureaucracy. They wanted to see community led solutions to local community problems.
I'll finish by asking the government to deliver on their headspace commitment. On 15 May, just a couple of days out from the 2019 election, the government announced $1.5 million for the establishment of a headspace at Wyong. I've written to the health minister and he said it would be in this budget. We haven't seen it in the budget papers. It's urgent. Young people in my community need this support right now. I know that the Prime Minister and the health minister are genuine in their commitment to mental health. We need to see it delivered.