FAILURE OF THE GOVERNMENT TO FOCUS ON THE NEEDS OF AUSTRALIANS

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (15:56): I congratulate you on your accession to your position, Mr Deputy Speaker. We come to the end of the first sitting fortnight for 2020. I think we would all acknowledge that we came back here very conscious that the nation needed a great deal of us. But I have to say that people could only look at what's happened in this last fortnight in this parliament with a great deal of disappointment.

Sitting at the heart of the government is a huge hole. That hole is the lack of a plan for the issues that Australians are facing and that they need a government to address. It became obvious day after day, through question time over the last two weeks, where we've canvassed issues such as the bushfire recovery response. It is a perfectly legitimate thing for opposition members to raise the concerns of their communities about how the government is responding to the bushfires, both in terms of the reconstruction process and the longer term efforts we need around climate change in order to address the challenges. Each time we ask this, those opposite get up and say it's politicising the bushfire action. It wasn't about politicising; it was about doing legitimately what vulnerable communities that need voices in this parliament had asked my colleagues to do. In particular, my colleagues the member for Macquarie, the member for Gilmore and the member for Eden-Monaro were asking questions that were directly what their communities were asking them.

If the government had had an answer, they had an opportunity to get up and say, 'Look, that's a genuine issue and this is what we're doing about it.' But they don't, because they don't have a plan. They don't have the capacity to put in place the reforms that are needed, so they just hit out at members who are speaking out on behalf of their communities. That's what we've seen in the last fortnight. Why do you get yourself into that position as a government? You get yourself that position because you think a cheap slogan will solve every problem. It doesn't get you through at the end of the day.

In this debate I particularly want to take the opportunity—I thank the Leader of the Opposition for putting this issue up—to talk about what we saw in question time today: after two weeks of the opportunity to come back and say that 2020 is going to be a big year for us as government, with big challenges in the community, such as education—take the debate this week in the parliament about the fact that we've lost over 140,000 apprentices in this country—a big opportunity to talk about the fact that a report came out noting that there is a significantly higher and growing proportion of people over the age of 55 on Newstart allowance, and they're struggling. There was an opportunity to talk about that. No, we don't get that. We get leadership fights. We get bun fights within parties which are focused on 'Will we split? Won't we split?'

We get opportunities to be transparent covered up by gagging debates and refusing to release documents. We get sports rorts in its various forms. That's what we get from the government.

Today we asked about the aged-care sector. I can tell you—and I know colleagues from this side and I have to assume colleagues from the other side—that this is one of the constantly increasing bread and butter issues in our electorate offices, with families ringing in tears because their elderly relatives are not getting the support that that need. The government's response was, 'We created 10,000 places.' As the shadow minister said only 5,000 were actually implemented and they know the waiting list is over 110,000. They know that's the waiting list and they think a bandaid like 10,000 will solve that. Who are those people? These are the people in their 90s who have been assessed as needing high care to stay in their homes and they're being told they'll have to wait three years. That's the reality.

I want the government to take the example of an amazing 90-year-old lady in my electorate, Val Fell, who received an Order of Australia this year—in her 90s! Val takes phone calls from people who are dementia carers. She organises an large annual conference in Wollongong for the carers of people with dementia. She is constantly lobbying and going off to conferences. Val, in her 90s, could teach this government a lesson about caring about the most vulnerable in our community.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.