A BUDGET OF EXTRAORDINARY DEBT BUT MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (18:26): I have on very many occasions spoken in the appropriation debate each year in which a budget has been brought down and I have been the representative of the electorate for Cunningham. But I will say that it has been an extraordinary year, and we have, as a result of the extraordinary events that our nation has faced, a later budget than we would normally have. We of course have been through the terrifying and devastating fires, the damaging floods and now the coronavirus pandemic, which is something that none of us, I think, could have envisaged at this time last year. It's something that we have, as a community, as a nation and as a parliament, had to deal with.

Such an extraordinary time calls for an extraordinary budget. I would say to the chamber that we've certainly seen an extraordinary debt. We're talking a trillion dollars in debt from a government, from the parties of government—the Liberal and National parties—that, despite the global financial crisis, which I was also a member in this parliament for, spent an awful lot of time running a debt and deficit fear campaign. We now see the reality that when extraordinary times call for extraordinary responses by government, that means the government needs to get out there and be an active player in the economy, and it should be spending more and investing in supporting jobs.

My frustration and disappointment with this budget is that I think it misses significant opportunities. One of the cleverest things a government can do when it's dealing with significant debt and significant deficits, and that means significant borrowings—and let's not forget that two-thirds of the debt in this budget was actually there prior to the COVID pandemic—is to get as much bang for your buck as you can. That means that you invest in the things that drive productivity, participation and equity in the community, and ensure that opportunities are there for the longer term—that you are spending money now, supporting jobs and supporting communities.

The second bang you get out of that is that you're also investing in the sorts of things that create growth and diversification of our economy into the future. Obviously, the two big areas—and this is not just me saying this; this is a well-argued economic position by international experts in this field—are to invest in your people and invest in your infrastructure.

An opposition member: Exactly! It's not rocket surgery, is it?

Ms BIRD: No, as the member says, it's not rocket surgery. It's very well-established orthodoxy, and it means that you actually get skilled, educated workers who are prepared for the emerging industries and economies of the future, and you get new infrastructure that supports the facilitation and operation of your communities, backing new industries. Therefore you get that double bang for your buck—not only an immediate hit to support jobs but longer-term investment for growth and diversification. And this budget fails dismally in that space and is very much a budget of missed opportunities.

In my own area, I well remember during the global financial crisis the investment we saw happen into transport infrastructure; into our universities and into our TAFEs, providing opportunities for education and training; into community infrastructure, which is used to this day for tourism and the diversification of our economy. Those investments helped at the time, and they continue to be the basis of economic activity and jobs in my region today. There is not a cent for the Illawarra in this budget—not a cent! It's just so frustrating to see that opportunity missed when transport infrastructure projects such as the Picton Road, the Appin Road and completing the Maldon-Dombarton rail link were all supported not just by Labor's state and federal members in our areas but by Liberal state members and the business chamber. Everybody was on board as a coalition about what a significant change this would make for our region, but there was no interest, not a cent, from this government. It is extremely disappointing.

To be honest, I was quite shocked that the government had missed the opportunity to invest in social housing. Homelessness is not a new issue. So often in this parliament, across both sides of the parliament, you hear people talking about the scourge of homelessness and the importance of addressing it. At a time when we're looking for additional government investment in communities, building new social housing and fixing existing social housing so it's at least habitable for people is low-hanging fruit. It is something that actually allows jobs to be supported and apprenticeships to be created, and it creates an asset that helps us deal with the scourge of homelessness. There are many wonderful social housing providers in my area with projects on the shelf, projects that they have ready to go that, with some funding, could be under construction now. And people could be housed in a very short period of time. There were commentators across the political spectrum saying before the budget that social housing is a clear place for government to go, in the budget, expending money to support jobs and create an asset that's going to help us deal with a very difficult problem, and it was completely absent from the budget. Again, it's a disappointment and something I think was a real missed opportunity.

The next area I want to talk about—and some of my colleagues have spoken about this—is participation in the workforce. We know if we get participation up that improves growth and productivity. And one of the areas we really need to address is women in the workplace. People, including the peaks of business bodies in this country, have been saying to government, have been saying to this whole parliament that getting child care affordable and accessible for families means that you increase participation by women, and that has an economic dividend for the whole community.

I was very pleased that Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, put this at the centre of his budget reply speech. The reality for so many families in my area, and I know in areas across the country, is that women are being held back from full participation in the workforce because of the cost of child care. It's another missed opportunity to invest in people in a way that supports jobs now and means that you get a dividend into the longer term.

I also want to touch on the fact that the budget really did nowhere near enough on the home-care waiting list. I have spoken about this on many occasions, so I will only take a minute to make the point. The government keeps doing this. Every time they do their classic big announcement and, when you look at the detail, the delivery's not great. With home care they've done it time and time again, as they do with apprenticeships. They do this big announcement as if they're doing something significant, but the reality with the additional home-care places is that they barely cover the new people coming on the list, and you have over 100,000 people waiting. I spoke to my local ABC radio about this this week, and I have already got people ringing my office who I didn't know about at that point, saying, 'I'm 92, I'm looking after my 88-year-old wife, and I still can't get my package delivered.' It's just extraordinary.

In the bit of time left to me I want to talk about an area that I really feel the government need to have another serious look at—and I'm disappointed that they didn't do that in the budget. That is around domestic and family violence. We know that internationally there were warnings and reports about the increase in domestic and family violence that we would see in our communities during the pandemic. Sadly, that has turned out to be the case.

I want to refer to an article by Sally Stevenson in the Illawarra Mercury by a very important service in my area, the Illawarra Women's Health Centre. The Illawarra Women's Health Centre is very well regarded in our area. It is a very high-quality service. They've been funded by governments for decades. Sally made the point, exactly as I've said, that we have seen an increase in domestic and family violence. She says:

In Shellharbour domestic and family violence rates over the last year have increased by 27.3 per cent, according to the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Sexual assault in the Illawarra has increased by 33.7 per cent in the same time period.

She says that these are reported cases, and we know that only 10 per cent of cases are reported, which makes the actual figures horrifying. I just want to read Sally's words, because I don't think I could put it any better than what she says in this article. Sally says:

Our centre is currently experiencing overwhelming demand for our DFV services due to the impact of COVID-19. Our waiting list for counselling and support exceeds three months. To date, we have not received any new funding to meet this highly predictable situation and the projected increasing need for support for women.

Let's take a step back. In March, despite all the global and national evidence that unequivocally predicted that we would experience escalating DFV rates due to COVID, only $150 million of new funding was committed to the sector by the Morrison government. That's $150 million across Australia. Six months later, less than 50 per cent of this has been delivered. No new DFV funding was identified in the federal budget announced on October 6. The National Women's Safety Council announced in August it remains concerned about DFV rates, but made no recommendation or request for additional funds.

This is the reality facing services, where they are seeing increased rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, as outlined in one service in my region. They are in the member for Whitlam's seat, and I know he works very closely with them as well. Quite rightly, we ask: why isn't the government supporting the domestic and family violence sector? These services are there day in day out on the front line, seeing the reality of these impacts.

They are a vital service and they really need to be supported, particularly at such a difficult time as this.

Instead what's happening is that, with a small amount of money available, they're competing against each other to get extra funds. Sally goes on to say, 'These are resources that would have otherwise been providing support to women right now.' The point is that they are filling out these forms and things when they could actually be doing frontline services. The maximum amount they could get if they were successful is $150,000 per organisation, which is the equivalent of one counsellor for about 18 months when you have that sort of increased demand for services.

I want to back the Illawarra Women's Health Centre and others on the frontline for domestic and family violence, including our police services and health services, all of whom are seeing the reality of this impact. I say to the government: when you're formulating the next budget in the normal time frames you should have a look at the demands that are there in the domestic and family violence sector. This is critically important for our communities. The government should find additional funding to support these services that do such important work. Clearly, at tough times, sadly, we see increased demand on these services. We need to give them the resources that they require to be able to do that. Our health and police services are intervening in cases and there aren't the follow-up support services there. Women and families are waiting three months. That's not acceptable. I'm pleading with the government as they formulate the next budget to take a serious look in this space.

Watch Sharon’s speech on the Budget here.

Watch Sharon’s speech on domestic and family violence here.