Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:24): I am not supportive of the amendments, but I am supportive of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022. The last 12 months, it must be said, have been among the most testing periods, outside of war, since the Great Depression. By comparison, the GFC, the global financial crisis, shrank the world economy by 0.1 per cent, and the world economy lost 3.4 per cent in 2020 alone. And let me tell you that the damage is not over yet, because the COVID virus is raging across the world.
We should be enormously proud here in Australia of the collective performance in combating the COVID virus—of our businesses and our workers, including healthcare and aged-care workers and volunteers. I think most Australians, are admiring, if not proud, of the job the Australian government has done. It has fought on every front to protect Australians. Our economic success is all but unparalleled around the world, and that has been built on the foundations of our success in containing the virus—keeping the virus out of Australia and getting it under control when it breaks out. Really instrumental in our ability to do that, I think, was the recognition by the federal government, three weeks in front of the WHO, that we were dealing with an international pandemic and that we should shut down Australian borders while we worked out how we deal with it.
Things have changed throughout the last 12 months. There have been constantly changing circumstances, if you like, and predictions are only sometimes useful. What I think has been really useful is the establishment of the national cabinet and the government’s ability, combined with the states, to change the way we’re dealing with the pandemic on a weekly basis as the pandemic has changed. That’s what you would expect good governments to do, and this has brought into place a structure that we have not had previously, where the state and federal leaders are meeting on a regular basis. I think that has been very important.
The government recognised early the importance of, and possible problems with, international supply lines on essential articles, particularly in the medical field with personal protective equipment and ventilators, and it supported the ability to manufacture our own vaccines. All this was recognised early and acted upon. That led to us establishing a capacity in Australia to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine. It would be fair to say that there have been a few glitches with AstraZeneca. Certainly there are microscopic, or very low, chances of actually causing any illness or damage to most people, and I must say that I’ve had my shot and come through it very well. I had a small sore spot on my shoulder for a few days, and that’s about it.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Zimmerman ): Didn’t you have the flu shot?
Mr RAMSEY: No, I’ve had both. But imagine if, in Australia, we had a crisis like the one in India, where close to 4,500 are dying daily; in Brazil, where 900 are succumbing; or in Russia, with 360. Italy, which was the first hotspot outside China—so they’ve been in it right from the start—is still losing 70 people a day. The US is still losing 230 a day and Japan is losing 100. Some estimates suggest that perhaps only 30 per cent of the deaths associated with COVID-19 worldwide have been reported. It’s a pandemic up there with the worst in human history. It’s not yet as bad as the Spanish flu, for instance, but it’s not over yet, as we can see. I urge my constituents to switch on SBS television every now and then and have a look at how this battle is going overseas. In comparison, Australia has not had a COVID death since November 2020. It’s an absolutely astonishing performance.
It is on that health dividend that we’ve been able to build a financial and employment miracle here in Australia, a miracle that nobody predicted—not Treasury, not the Reserve Bank, not the OECD and not the IMF. The bounce-back in the Australian economy has been extraordinary. The management of the health risk has allowed for some of the smartest government expenditure we have ever witnessed in our lives. The GDP shrunk by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter, then seven per cent in the June quarter, which was originally predicted by some to be as much as a 10 to 20 per cent reduction, but the government acted quickly. The centrepiece of their actions has been the JobKeeper package which assisted businesses to keep workers on their payrolls and associated with their businesses. Workers kept getting paid even if there was no work. It was absolutely revolutionary but it worked. So 3.8 million workers were kept in place. More than a million businesses accessed the assistance.
Special packages were designed for child care, the aviation industry, the tourism industry, cinemas. Payments were made to pensioners—two lots of $750 and then another two lots of $250. Jobseekers were given solid support through the supplement and relieved of their mutual obligations for a while. Eventually the supplement expired and their base rate was raised permanently. Stimulus was provided through the HomeBuilder package. Cashflow boost payments were provided to businesses. Lessors and renters were protected. Banks provided interest holidays. Tax relief and an ability to clawback taxes previously paid were put in place. The federal government has been on everyone’s side and guess what? It has worked. It has worked a treat.
We’ve had two quarters now, September and December, which have provided GDP growth of greater than three per cent. It has never happened before. In early June the March quarter figures are due and businesses in Australia are betting they’re good. I am also of that opinion. Almost certainly the economy will be larger than it was in January 2020, prior to COVID-19, and certainly the unemployment figures are good. Early Treasury forecasts suggested that we could have an unemployment rate as high as 15 per cent. In the first two months of the pandemic 1.3 million Australians had been stood down or lost their jobs. Following the government’s actions unemployment eventually peaked at 7.4 per cent and is now down to 5.5 per cent. As I said, nobody predicted an outcome that good. Given the extraordinary claims made by the opposition of impending doom, with the expiry of the twice extended JobKeeper, last month’s unemployment figures of 5.7 down to 5.5 per cent are extraordinary. The opposition, and I said this in the chamber once before, have proved to be more Cassandra than Nostradamus. Seriously, they must feel silly. It should teach the members of the opposition to read something besides the Guardian and the Labor Party talking points.
In Grey we have seen unprecedented support. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a representative of our government in Grey—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 16:32 to 16:43
Mr RAMSEY: There’s been unprecedented support of Grey, particularly but not only for roads. The Augusta Highway duplication project is to receive an extra $148 million from this year’s budget to accompany the $64 million already in the pipeline and pledged from the time of the last election. This won’t do the whole project—it’s 200 kilometres long—but it will certainly go a substantial way and will allow for the planning to do the work between Crystal Brook and Port Pirie on the same duplication project. A total of $212 million now will be enhanced by a 20 per cent contribution from the state. I’m very pleased to be able to announce an extra $64 million for the sealing of the Strzelecki Track, which brings the commitment from the federal government to $164 million. I expect that, with the state contribution, this will go very close to completing those works. That’s another very important project not just for Grey but for the whole of South Australia.
There is a further $12 million allocated for the upgrades of the main APY Lands access roads. That should bring that project close to fruition as well. There’s another $5 million for extra works on Eyre Highway, and there’s already over $100 million in works taking place there at the moment. There’s $5 million to do a study of a bypass of Greater Adelaide. Adelaide is not in my electorate—one of the few places that seems not to be!—but I would expect that bypass to come through the southern portion of Grey on the Adelaide Plains. So there is $1 billion for roads, either under construction or in the pipeline, in Grey at the moment. There are substantial upgrades to the Eyre, Stuart, Todd, Horrocks, Barrier, Augusta and Spencer highways. They are all having significant work done on them, and they are by no means an exhaustive list of the works being undertaken in Grey. I’ve never in my lifetime seen this kind of federal contribution to a seat like Grey, and it is greatly appreciated.
Councils didn’t miss out either. There’s a continuation of the special local road component for South Australian councils. It is a fund that has been in place most of the time since 2002—it lapsed for a couple of years. It recognises a flaw in the formula that divides the financial assistance grants for councils when they apply for local roads, so I was very pleased, along with the member for Barker, to lobby for and achieve that outcome. There’s another $250 million for another round of the Building Better Regions Fund. This fund has been an absolute star in the electorate of Grey and, I think it would be fair to say, right across regional Australia. We’ve seen some great projects get off the ground, things that could never have been done without the support of the federal government. There are a couple underway at the moment, and another round will be announced soon. I think it’s gratifying for those of us who represent regional Australia to see that that fund is being continued.
Already in Grey we’ve had 564 apprentices start under the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme. That’s good news, and it’s particularly good news that the scheme is being expanded by another 70 per cent. I’m expecting another 300 or 400 apprentices to get a start in Grey, and certainly we could do with those skills. There’s another $84 million to the Regional Connectivity Program, which recently announced the first round of funding in the electorate of Grey. There was a fantastic upgrade of the link between Hawker and Leigh Creek. The upgrade of that link will allow Telstra to provide more mobile phone services in areas that have been too difficult to service before. And there’s an upgrade for the Wudinna township. It’s somewhere that I always thought should have been on either a wireless network or fibre to the node, but it has been serviced by satellite because of backhaul difficulties that existed around the township, or its location.
In general terms, Grey, like every other electorate, will benefit from the $17 billion boost in aged care, a response to the findings of the royal commission. That is an enormous boost, but it should be noted that real growth in aged-care funding has increased by 50 per cent—from $14.2 billion to $24.3 billion—between the time we came to government, in 2013, and the current year. Those who want to throw stones should contemplate that figure. In that period of time the increase in the population of those aged over 65 was 23 per cent. So there has been a very real increase in the amount of money going on aged care, but there’s more to do, and we accept that. Home-care packages have almost doubled in the time we’ve been in government, and there are more to come. As demand grows, we have responded. We’ve taken the steps, year after year after year, to increase the in-home aged-care packages and support the residential aged-care sector, and this budget takes us to unprecedented levels.
There is a $1.7 billion package to support women’s health and wellbeing, to provide more assistance to women fleeing domestic violence and to provide a pathway for women to increase their superannuation savings. Women in Grey, like those everywhere else, will benefit from that package.
There is another $1.7 billion going to the childcare sector, reducing pressure on families and bringing more women back into the tightening labour market. This is a very important point. With no immigrants coming into Australia at the moment, we are going to have to mobilise our entire workforce to meet the demands of our economy in the near term, so women are desperately needed.
The NDIS has received significantly more funding, and there is very significant extra support for mental health, including extra headspace units. I already have a number of headspace units in my electorate—it’s geographically vast—and I will certainly be working to ensure one of these is situated at Port Pirie, which is more than a hundred kilometres from any other service of that type. Around 14,000 or 15,000 people live in that area, and I think it will be ideal. I hope we can land it.
There are, of course, the tax cuts—the further extension of the accelerated tax write-offs—which are stimulating more jobs and building a bigger economy. By and large, my electorate has welcomed this budget. I’m struggling to remember a negative call, it must be said, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the government. I’m certainly looking forward to getting on with the job.