Local issues, plus water and environment: speech in the Appropriations debate

By Terri Butler MP

20 October 2020

One of the things I was really disappointed about in this budget was that it didn't address an issue that has been a gaping wound in my electorate for many, many years, and that's a piece of Commonwealth owned property which is a former Red Cross hall at Greenslopes, right across the road from the Greenslopes Private Hospital. This is Commonwealth owned property. It's a hall. It's an asbestos risk. There are fences up and there is shade cloth around the fences. It's been like this for years, and I've been lobbying the government over that entire time to get it fixed. There are signs up saying, 'Asbestos' and, 'Brittle roof'. It's a really dangerous thing and it ought to have been fixed years ago.

On top of the asbestos risk, the other problem with this hall is of course that it's just a waste. This is a piece of Commonwealth property that could be a really great community facility. It could be being used to assist the veterans community. Of course, the Gallipoli foundation across the road at Greenslopes Private will be well-known to many people in this building. This is a precinct where you could have some really good services for veterans. Legacy is interested in negotiating with the government for the use of the hall, so I call on the government to actually take the step of dealing with this. It needs to be remediated and then it needs to be made available for community use, and I'm sure there'll be no shortage of community organisations interested in using it. But, for the local residents and for the hospital and for all of us who are in and around Greenslopes, I do expect this to be fixed. It has been going on literally for years. I've written many letters about it to a succession of Commonwealth government ministers while I've been a member of parliament, and there's still no action. This needs to be fixed.

The other issue that I was disappointed—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 17:50 to 17:59

Ms BUTLER: Another issue I've been really concerned about is the absence of any support in the budget for the Cavendish Road level crossing. The Lytton Road level crossing was funded by the federal government last year and there is some funding in this year's budget for the Beams Road level crossing, but still nothing for the Cavendish Road level crossing. I certainly don't begrudge the Lytton Road funding from last year—there was a terrible fatality at the Lytton Road level crossing; I know the member for Bonner was very upset and devastated by that, and of course he advocated for that funding. But, similarly, the Cavendish Road level crossing is something that is crying out for fixing up. It shouldn't ever take a fatality for funding for that particular level crossing to be addressed. This is something that people have been talking to me about for the entire time that I've been a member of the federal parliament—and before—and it's something that really needs to be resolved.

Obviously the most salient issue on the minds of my constituents right now is the COVID pandemic and the consequent issues that people are facing when it comes to their health. Of course, the twin issue is the current recession that we're facing at the moment as a nation. One of the really key issues for my constituents, when they look at this budget, is thinking about whether or not the decisions taken by the Morrison government in this budget are going to potentially make the recession longer and deeper than it otherwise would have been. What do I mean by that? Of course, I'm talking about decisions that might lead to support being withdrawn from the economy too early. We would all be aware in this place that if support is withdrawn too early that can lead to a deeper and longer recession.

It's expected that more than 27,000 workers in my local area could be worse off and more than $24 million could be taken out of the local economy because of the cuts to JobKeeper. As you would know, Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, withdrawal of that sort of support just makes no sense if there's no comprehensive jobs plan to replace it; that's certainly been the case with this budget. In addition, we're very concerned that, under the Prime Minister's changes, Australians on the minimum wage—that includes people in my electorate—could also lose up to $300 a week from their pay packets, even if their employer has recovered enough to come off JobKeeper. The wage subsidy is really important. It's crucial for keeping people connected to the labour market. Anything that can be done to make sure that people remain in work should be considered. On the new wage subsidy and the hiring credit that was announced: I am disappointed that almost one million Australians who are unemployed are excluded from the eligibility for that new hiring credit as well. That is, I think, very disappointing for Australians who are looking to the government for support during these very difficult times.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen the number of locals relying on unemployment payments in my electorate increase from 3,947 in December last year to more than 9,800 as at August this year; that's up by more than 5,800 people, or up by around 249 per cent. Across the country, the number of unemployed people looking for work has skyrocketed; it has doubled since the start of the pandemic. My community is being hit really hard by these things. We saw, when lockdown started, massive queues at the Centrelinks. I've given a shout-out to my Centrelink frontline workers before, but let me give them another shout-out and say: thank you, again, for all the work that you've done to look after people during these terrible times. Heading into Christmas, a lot of people are incredibly anxious about what the future might hold. So let me just say once more, to be clear: the Prime Minister must make sure that support is not withdrawn too quickly or too early. If he does allow support to be withdrawn too quickly or too early, that will deepen the recession and make it longer.

The other issue that's of key importance to my local area is child care. Our local suburbs' families have seen costs rise by 4.6 per cent in a year. In that time, CPI has gone up by only 2.2 per cent. With childcare subsidies indexed to CPI, you can see the trouble that we have. People are being left more and more out of pocket because of the increasing costs of child care. As you would know, Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, nationally childcare fees have increased by 35.9 per cent since the Liberal-National government was first elected.

Last sitting week, in the budget reply, the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, announced Labor's working family childcare boost, which would bring immediate fee relief to 97 per cent of families. We will also task the ACCC to design a price regulation mechanism to shed some light on costs and fees and drive them down for good, and get the Productivity Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the sector with the aim of implementing a universal 90 per cent subsidy for all families—incredibly important. Child care, and the absence of accessible child care, is a key impediment to people returning to work after they've had kids. Of course, we also know that child care is incredibly important for early learning—early childhood development being crucial to people's outcomes throughout their life.

I also wanted to mention another issue that's of importance to my constituents, and that is aircraft noise. Throughout my time as a federal MP, I've been calling on the government, on BAC and on Airservices to mitigate noise for people living under the flightpath. Those people, I should say, include me. I've lived under the flightpath for a long time, and this is an issue that I, therefore, know very well. So many of our locals who live under the flightpath have been calling for a decrease to noise.

What's happened very recently is that the second runway has been opened—a really big milestone in the life of Brisbane Airport Corporation. The second runway was opened in July this year. So there's now a second cohort of people in my electorate who are affected by aircraft noise. They have been very concerned about that aircraft noise. In fact, the local state member, the Hon. Di Farmer MP, the local councillor, Councillor Kara Cook and I have been getting so many inquiries that we have started a petition to call on the Deputy Prime Minister, as the minister responsible, to explain in really clear language, in a consolidated way, what the options might be for decreasing that noise. More than 1,600 people have signed that petition already, and, of those, more than 1,000 are actually constituents of ours in our collective electorates. So I will be calling on the Deputy Prime Minister to assist with that. Of course, the area being what it is, there are actually quite a few people who live there who've got aviation expertise. I don't claim to have any aviation expertise, but pilots and people who've got air traffic control experience have all been coming forward with lots of suggestions and ideas. So we are compiling those for the Deputy Prime Minister to consider.

Another issue of crucial importance across my electorate is jobs and job creation. In his budget reply speech, the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, flagged a number of proposals that could assist with jobs, including through supporting construction, maintenance and manufacturing jobs. The government should actually adopt Labor's proposals. One of the early ones that they could adopt would be Anthony's suggestion in relation to funding repairs to social housing. Labor would invest $500 million to fast-track urgent repairs to social housing and call on the states to match the funding. Repairs could start almost immediately—pretty much right away. That would mean jobs for chippies, for sparkies and for plumbers. It would mean jobs for manufacturers of components of building supplies and materials. This is a no-brainer. It's something that needs to be done, and it could be done right away.

Of course, the other issue that Anthony talked about that is absolutely fundamental to jobs creation, because it's fundamental to backing in Australian industry, was energy policy. Labor would modernise and rebuild our electricity grid to drive more jobs, drive cheaper power prices and provide the reliable energy that our country needs to drive industry. We should actually be a renewable energy superpower, but our transmission system isn't up to scratch—and that needs to be fixed. Meanwhile, the Liberal-National government have had 22 different energy policies in the time that they've been in power. So, clearly, they can't be counted on to deliver on this. But it's a really important issue and it needs a resolution.

Another issue of great frustration for my constituents is the NBN. The Liberals never should have trashed Labor's NBN plans. It was obviously—and it was obvious at the time—silly to replace the fibre plans with a copper rollout. They finally admitted it, but only after seven years of waste. The fibre-to-the-premises model was the right model. But now the government's going to spend $4.5 billion in public money cleaning up this ridiculous mistake. Of course, this needs to happen as promptly as possible. Whenever there are internet problems at my house, there's always a bit of muttering about the Liberal government and what they did to the NBN. I'm sure that that is being replicated across household after household on the south side.

I wanted to make some brief remarks about my portfolio. In Environment, we are now seeing the ramifications of the fact that the Liberals cut 40 per cent of the funding to the environment department since they were elected. Those ramifications are playing out in delays in project approvals under the EPBC Act. A couple of months ago, the Auditor-General's report came out and said that there are extensive delays to approvals. There's been a 510 per cent increase in delays for approval decisions under this government. What do you expect? If you cut funding to the environment department, the consequence is a delay on jobs and a delay on investments, because of the delay on project approvals.

Of course, we shouldn't be rushing project approvals through. They absolutely must be done properly. This is not about cutting corners or waving things through that would have environmental impacts. This is actually just about meeting statutory time frames by resourcing the department properly. I was pleased to see that the government has issued a bit of a mea culpa on this by admitting its cuts are at the root of these problems, the admission taking the form of some additional money for the EPBC decision-making by the department. But the government never should have cut the funding in the first place, and every delayed project that was delayed because of workload problems or mismanagement in the department, rather than for genuine environmental reasons, is a consequence of this government's mismanagement and cuts.

On the environment more broadly, the hallmark of this government has been that it is a government of announcements but without delivery. We've seen that in a number of places. For example, there was the remarkable situation recently with the statutory review of the EPBC legislation, where the government announced that they would not bring forward legislation without at the same time bringing forward some proposed national environmental standards. What happened? They brought forward legislation in the August sittings but no national environmental standards. So we are looking very much forward to seeing what they do in relation to the recommendations from the review for national environmental standards as well as a range of other recommendations from that review process.

Turning to threatened species: this is absolutely crucial. Less than 40 per cent of listed threatened species have a recovery plan. Environment officials have told Senate estimates that there are 172 species and habitats that required a plan, and most of those plans are overdue. In fact, they haven't made a new plan since June 2019. Quite a bit has happened in the intervening period, including a national bushfire crisis that saw three billion animals killed or displaced. It is absolutely crucial that this government gets its act together, gets a plan for addressing the backlog and works hard on considering all those species that the Threatened Species Scientific Committee is saying need to be considered for listing or uplisting as a consequence of the bushfires. They just need to get their act together. The world is facing an extinction crisis, and Australia leads the world in mammal extinctions. It's not good enough to not be doing a good job when it comes to threatened species in this country.

Let me say something about water. I visited Emu Swamp Dam site last week. This is actually the only dam that the government have been able to point to. Before they got elected, they said they were going to build 100 dams. They have built zero dams. They're now in their eighth year. Finally there's a dam that they can point to. Finally there's some federal funding going into a dam. They've been having a go at us, I noticed, about their theory that Labor are somehow not properly supportive of this dam. What we found out in Stanthorpe last week was that actually they only sent the paperwork to the Queensland government in September this year. It took them more than a year to get their act together to send the paperwork through. Thankfully the Queensland government have turned it around, and I congratulate them for doing it. (Time expired)