Today I rise to address Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2021-2022 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2021-2022. Labor will support these bills. We've got a long history in the Labor Party—we don't block supply. But let me be clear: we will not be lectured on fiscal responsibility by the most wasteful government since Federation. We will not be lectured on money matters by a government which doubled the debt before the pandemic. And we won't be lectured by a government set to deliver a trillion dollars in debt with nothing to show for it.
The track record of this government, the track record of the Liberal Party, is embarrassing. The self-styled 'better money managers', the party that brands itself as 'financially responsible', is facing a trillion-dollar debt that Australian taxpayers will be paying off for the next century. Yet, somehow, this government has still managed to be the second-highest-taxing government over the past 30 years. Australians are paying almost $5,000 more tax every year under the Liberals than under the last Labor government in 2013. And what did they spend it on? What do they have to show for it? Maybe they can reflect on the $40 billion of JobKeeper payments that went to companies that shouldn't have qualified for them. What a proud moment for this Treasurer! This Treasurer, the member for Kooyong, will go down in history as overseeing the single biggest waste of public money since Federation, and still this Liberal government has the temerity to go out there in public and claim it is the party of fiscal responsibility. If this Treasurer was your accountant, you would have fired him long ago! You wouldn't trust him to run your piggy bank, let alone the nation's finances. We simply cannot risk another three years of Liberal fiscal mismanagement. Their incompetence threatens the financial security of millions of Australians, and they simply have to go.
But the failures of this tired Liberal government are not limited to their financial incompetence. The economy is suffering under the government's watch. Productivity has been flatlining, and poor productivity performance means a smaller economy overall.
One in four Australian businesses are experiencing critical skills shortages. We've seen a rapid decline in qualified apprentices and trainees entering the workforce—a 44 per cent drop in my home state of Tasmania over the past six years, compared to under the Labor government. Just imagine that: in the last six years of the Labor government, we qualified a million apprentices and trainees; in these last six years of the Liberal government, there were 500,000—they halved it. Outrageous!
At the same time, there are two million Australians who are either looking for a job or want to work more hours. We need a plan to train people, through TAFE and higher education, to fill the critical skill shortages, now and into the future. We need a plan to ensure that there are more opportunities for more people in more parts of the country, especially regional areas. And Labor has that plan. A Labor government will provide 465,000 free TAFE places in areas of critical skills shortage, including 45,000 new TAFE places. Under Labor's plan for free TAFE, we will focus on those areas which are currently seeing that critical skills gap because of the Morrison government's abject neglect. Free TAFE will help rebuild industries hit hardest by the pandemic, like hospitality, tourism and construction. Free TAFE will help meet current and future needs in the care economy by training people for jobs in child care, aged care, disability care, nursing and community services, and free TAFE will provide more opportunities for apprentices and trainees to upskill in areas of need such as trades and construction. Free TAFE also provides opportunities for school leavers, workers wanting to retrain or upskill and unpaid carers. On top of that, Labor will also provide 20,000 new university places for areas of need, most principally across regional Australia.
Labor wants a future made in Australia, and that means investing in our best resource—and, no, it's not coal; it's people. Australia is blessed with natural resources, but under this government we are missing out on an opportunity to value-add and employ Australians in manufacturing. A Labor government will invest in our manufacturing sector and get the cheapest energy to where it's needed through an overdue upgrade to our outdated energy grid. With cheap and abundant renewable energy, our manufacturing sector will create jobs for Australians. It's all part of Labor's better future, made in Australia plan. And it's a great plan, because for Australia to succeed and build back stronger after the pandemic we must be a country that makes things again.
We've seen the consequences of this Liberal government's neglect over the past nine years—fewer jobs, missed opportunities and a nation left exposed when the coronavirus hit. Labor will rebuild our proud manufacturing industry and build a future made right here in Australia. We want to build ferries and buses right here. We want one in 10 jobs on major federal infrastructure projects to be given to apprentices, trainees and cadets to upskill the next generation of workers. We want to invest in clean energy to cut power bills and realise Australia's potential as a renewable superpower.
The truth is that Australians cannot afford another decade like the last. We cannot afford another decade defined by economic complacency and poor productivity. We cannot afford another decade marred by stagnant wage growth and skyrocketing living costs. To boost productivity we need investment in energy, technology, infrastructure and human capital. This Prime Minister, this Treasurer, this government will never understand that. They will never understand why you can't rort and waste your way to success. It's all they've ever known.
Good governments don't not spend their days abusing public money in order to shore up marginal seats. Good governments don't spend their time crafting colour coded spreadsheets and overriding expert recommendations in order to suit their naked political purposes. Good governments act with decency and integrity and have a vision for not only the people who voted for them but also the people who didn't vote for them. Sadly, this is not a government that acts with decency or integrity. This Liberal government shuns both of these virtues in favour of dodgy dealings and self-promotion.
It's been 1,161 days since the Prime Minister announced that his government would establish a federal anticorruption watchdog, and what has happened? Nothing, absolutely nothing. The Attorney-General admitted this week that it won't happen. It's pathetic. What a disgrace. What a blight on this parliament and on this government. A government that shirks accountability and integrity is a government that has something to hide. But you cannot hide incompetence, and this tired Liberal government has been exposed for what it is: unsuited for office, unfit to lead the nation and unwilling to take action on critical issues.
Just look at the state of aged care in this country. It fills me with rage, the state of aged care in this country. Not only did the government fail on the vaccine rollout. It failed to provide even one single federal quarantine facility. It also failed to order enough rapid antigen tests. It failed to take appropriate action to protect our most vulnerable citizens during a global pandemic. It promised that they'd be first for the vaccines, and too many were left waiting. Even before the pandemic, we knew the state of aged care was in crisis from the royal commission's interim report entitled Neglect. Aged-care residents even now are malnourished and frightened, and they are dying in their beds, often cut off from their families.
Dedicated aged-care workers come to this parliament to talk to us, in tears, about the fact that they can't do enough. They don't have the time to put into caring for people. So many of them are using their own lunchbreaks and time off just to hold a hand because they don't have time to do it on their shift. Those aged-care workers don't get paid enough. We know this. They're at their wits' end trying to keep their residents alive and cared for. We have an aged-care-services minister who has presided over—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:55 to 18:02
- As I was saying, dedicated aged-care workers are at their wits' end trying to keep their residents alive and cared for, and we have a minister for aged-care services who has presided over 1,600 COVID related deaths in aged care and who ditched a Senate committee meeting to sit at the cricket, and he's still in cabinet. My advice to the Prime Minister: don't just give Tudge the nudge; get rid of Colbeck too. It is unforgivable. It is sickening. Senator Colbeck must resign today or be sacked by this Prime Minister.
In the short time I've got left to speak, I want to address some of issues that were raised in question time today. The contributions by the Prime Minister and the defence minister were absolutely reprehensible, playing petty domestic politics with national security and defence. It's important to say that Australia's relationship with China is a long and complex one. There have been positive aspects and difficult aspects of the relationship under both Labor and coalition governments. But I will not sit back and allow the Prime Minister and the defence minister to concoct a fantasy in the public's minds about Labor's position. It's important to note that in 2004, in a statement that was reported as 'sure to please Beijing', Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer said that, in the case of a military clash over Taiwan, ANZUS was 'symbolic' and Canberra would not side with Taiwan. In 2007 Liberal defence minister Brendan Nelson said: "I have … reassured China that so-called quadrilateral dialogue with India is not something that we are pursuing."
In 2008, when Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd admonished China for human rights abuses in Tibet, Liberal opposition leader Brendan Nelson said: "I don't know whether it's wise to have broadcast it as publicly as he seems to be doing."
In 2009, when Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd issued a visa to Uighur separatist leader Rebiya Kadeer, senior Liberal Philip Ruddock described that decision as 'a mistake'. In 2009 Prime Minister Rudd refocused Australia's defensive naval power in response to China's increasing military spending. The response from the Liberal opposition leader and later Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was that it made 'no sense to base its long-term strategy on the highly contentious proposition that Australia is on an inevitable collision course with a militarily aggressive China'. Chris Ullman reported that 'the Chinese agree'. In 2012 the Labor government, citing national security, banned Chinese company Huawei from involvement in the NBN. The ban sparked fury from Huawei's Australian board members including former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer, who described the ban as 'completely absurd'. Senior Liberals Andrew Robb and Malcolm Turnbull said the ban should be lifted.
We come to 2015 and unnamed Australian defence officials expressed angst and our US allies were annoyed that the Liberal government gave long-term control of Darwin port to a company closely aligned with the Chinese government. Liberal trade minister Andrew Robb said, 'We have to act in the national interest, and that is what has happened with the port of Darwin.' A few months later, he went to work for the company, and in 2019 Robb accused Australian intelligence officials of spreading anti-China sentiment, saying 'the evidence was not there'. I say all this because it's important to remember that the relationship with China is long and complex, and members can trawl through Hansard and the press to find all sorts of things said by members from all sides about this relationship with China.
The key thing to remember is that we are stronger when we present a united front on the international stage, and until this week that is precisely what we've done as a nation. Coalition and Labor can have our differences internally, but out there on the international stage we have presented a bipartisan front. And that compact was broken this week by the petty politicking of the Prime Minister and his defence minister. They are reprehensible. They are serving the interests of foreign powers. That's what is happening. We had evidence today from DFAT that Beijing seeks to exploit political division in Australia. The Prime Minister is playing into Beijing's hands for his own naked political purposes. He can serve the Liberal Party's political interest or he can serve the national interest, but he can't serve both and he must make up his mind.