MPI: The 2020 Budget

07 October 2020

An address to the Parliament on a Matter of Public Importance, the 2020 Budget.

The budget that was handed down last night from that dispatch box was somehow, miraculously, less than the sum of its parts. This was the biggest missed opportunity in a Commonwealth budget since Federation. This was the budget where Australian politics' butter-fingers was thrown the ball and he dropped it. The whole nation was ready for a vision for the future, a vision for jobs, a plan to get us through this recession and into recovery, and a plan to kickstart that recovery and kickstart the economy so that we can start growing again, the right way.

But never before has a budget spent so much to achieve so little. When you comb through what was announced last night, when you get beyond all of the spin, all of the self-congratulation, all of the awkwardly posed photographs and all of the headlines, what are Australians actually left with at the end, from this budget that was announced less than 24 hours ago? They are left with two things. They are left with $1.7 trillion of debt and they are left with unemployment which is unacceptably high for, unacceptably, too long. They have nothing to show for $100 billion of new spending and $1.7 trillion of debt, nothing except unemployment, which has been too high for too long.

The important thing, which we on this side of the House understand but those opposite don't seem to understand, is that you don't judge a budget by the headlines it generates; you judge a budget by the jobs and opportunities that it generates and how it shares those opportunities fairly into every single corner of our country. If you sit down and think about what they announced last night and what was proposed—in the near term it might have passed the headlines test, but it hasn't passed the budget test. You judge a budget by jobs and opportunities and what it says about the future, and you judge a government by its ability to understand what's happening to real people in the real communities that we represent, right around Australia—to have enough understanding, empathy and appreciation of the difficulty that people are going through and to actually stand up and say that you will do something about it.

It's quite a remarkable feat that those opposite have managed to rack up more than $1 trillion in debt and yet we expect another 160,000 of our fellow Australians to lose their jobs between now and the end of the year. Remarkably, after all of that spending and all of that spraying money around, they still forecast the unemployment rate to be higher at the end of the four-year forward estimates than it was before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus. It's remarkable that they've sprayed around all that money and racked up more than $1 trillion in debt and they've still managed to leave so many Australians behind. I'll give you one example: 928,000 Australian workers currently on unemployment benefits aren't even eligible for the main policy in the budget, which was the hiring subsidy. They've left 928,000 Australians in the lurch when it comes to that hiring subsidy. They've racked up $1 trillion in debt and they've still found a way, miraculously, to do nothing about social housing, child care, residential aged care, cleaner and cheaper energy and local jobs programs—nothing. It takes a fair bit of effort to rack up more than $1 trillion in debt and still leave all of those crucial policy areas out in the cold.

They've wracked up $1 trillion in debt and still haven't managed to undo the damage done by seven years of incompetence and mismanagement and cuts to vital areas like training but also right across the board. All of that damage, and they want to pretend that those seven years of mismanagement can somehow, miraculously, be explained by the last seven months or so of COVID-19. They've wracked up $1 trillion in debt and still have no plan or vision for the future. There's not even a skerrick of vision in this budget. It's all short-term stuff about getting them through an election and getting them the front page of the paper, but there's nothing which resembles a vision for the future of this country. Most importantly, there's nothing about where real people fit in that vision and what people can expect when it comes to how we spread opportunity in this country, how we give people access to the opportunities that come from a recovering economy. There's nothing at all about that, and it's because they don't understand the impacts of this Morrison recession, the first recession in three decades, the deepest and most damaging recession in almost a century.

They have absolutely no idea what it means for people. They don't know what people are going through. Almost a million are already unemployed, with another 160,000 to come. Unemployment has been too high for too long. People have been left out and left behind. People are worried. Over-35s are worried about not being able to access this hiring subsidy. Maybe they've just copped the JobKeeper cut, with $300 less a fortnight. If they lose their job then they're back to $40 a day, if we take what we saw in the budget last night as the government's plan. That's a pretty bleak future that those opposite have painted for millions of Australians who want nothing more than the chance and the ability to put food on their family's table, to put school shoes on their kids' feet and to pay the rent or the mortgage—not just to get by but to get ahead. These are not unreasonable things that the people that we represent want for themselves and for the people that they love.

The budget fails the future test. It leaves people behind, leaves key policies out and leaves unemployment too high for too long. It forgets to paint a vision for the future. It also did something else really important. It torpedoed for all time, forever, the stupendous dishonesty and the stupendous hypocrisy of almost everything that those opposite have said about debt and deficit over the last dozen or so years. Look at those opposite and think about what they've been saying now for the last 10 or 12 years about debt and deficit. All of that has been completely blown up by the fact that they have now racked up $1.7 trillion in debt, which is more than six times what they inherited when the government changed hands in 2013.

We've heard enough from those opposite—all this rubbish, hypocrisy and dishonesty about what happened during the GFC, what happened in the interim and what's happening now. I don't know how the Treasurer looks at himself in the mirror in the morning, having said all of these things for a decade or more. Forever he will be associated with $1.7 trillion in debt and the deepest and most damaging recession in almost a century.

These same characters have been going around the country for more than a decade now trying to diminish what Australians achieved together in the period under Prime Minister Rudd, Treasurer Swan and the cabinet that contained the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Sydney and others. We say to those opposite: 'Enough of the hypocrisy, enough of the dishonesty and enough of the rubbish about debt and deficit. It's time for you to recognise that much of what you've said over the last decade or so has been completely and utterly wrong.'

In last night's budget there are all the missed opportunities—and the Australian people were expecting more, frankly, during this recession from the government—all of the disappointments, all of the things left out, all the people left behind and all of the unemployment, which has been too high for too long. I think it's really important to remember that before we came into this crisis—and those opposite talk about coming into it from a position of strength—this Prime Minister, the chicken whisperer, and the Treasurer had never in their entire time in their current roles presided over anything near trend growth in the economy. Never—not once—has the Prime Minister or the Treasurer in their current roles gone anywhere near it or a surplus. They doubled the debt. We entered this period from a position of weakness, not strength. That left us vulnerable. It did so in the health area as well. That's why we need a centre for disease control. In the economy in particular all of the mismanagement for seven years has left us exposed and that's why the recession we're in right now is deeper and more damaging than it needs to be and that is why the unemployment queues are longer than they need to be.

We won't recover from this recession the right way unless those opposite recognise that the whole point of a budget is not to attract headlines but to chase jobs. It's about painting a vision for the future and telling people where they fit in that. Australians were prepared to give the government a chance last night. They tuned in to hear what was in it for them. Unfortunately, it was a massive missed opportunity.