Appropriation Bills 2017-2018
Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (12:46): Listening to the member for Shortland, you could have inserted that budget reply speech into any coalition budget over the last 20 years. The reality of delivering budgets is that Labor has never understood how to deliver a budget, what a budget surplus might be, how to get to a budget surplus and how to deal with the debt and deficit challenges that we have.
We have done something very important in this budget, and that is continue to restrain expenditure growth. For members opposite, who do not understand what I am talking about, that means we are going to be spending less, not just this year but every year over the forward estimates. Why is that important? Why is it important that we spend less as a government and we continue to restrain expenditure growth? It is important because we have to retain our AAA credit rating. It is important because we have to ensure that our economy is strong, and restraining expenditure growth is critical to that.
Even this morning, CommSec has recognised that the government's efforts to restrain expenditure growth are right on track. Our AAA credit rating has been retained. In a global economic environment, with the challenges that the world economy faces, nothing could be more important than reigning in expenditure growth in government. At every turn and at every step, as you have just heard, we are opposed by the Labor Party in restraining expenditure growth. In fact, every day they have a new plan to spend not just $1 billion, not just $2 billion, not just $10 billion; we just heard they are going to spend $22 billion more, just on one policy area.
We just heard that, even though it was a Labor government that froze the indexation of Medicare, a Labor government that initiated it under Julia Gillard, they would immediately remove it—a multibillion dollar policy with implications immediately. Rather than the government's sensible, phased approach to ensure that we continue to constrain expenditure growth.
Every single second of every single day the Labor party says, 'We've got a plan to spend more money.' I think people out there are onto this. They understand that you cannot just simply continue to spend more, spend more and spend more, because our budget is already in deficit. Our debt is already ballooning. We need to constrain expenditure growth. This government is doing that, and Labor does not understand it. This will have real implications if Labor is elected back to office, because they continue to advocate for very expensive policies that they simply cannot fund, even in critical areas like health, education—even the NDIS, a flagship Labor policy. The NDIS is a flagship Labor policy for which, in government, it committed to an increase in the Medicare levy, which we have in this budget. It is a reasonable, proportionate response to fund a critical area of government service delivery. This government is proposing a modest increase in the Medicare levy, which will guarantee, secure and underpin the funding of the NDIS, giving certainty to this very important program.
What do we have from the Shorten Labor opposition? We have a commitment to oppose a fair and reasonable increase, even for disability funding. We know that many members of the Labor Party oppose it. Of course Labor members go quiet at this point, because many members in the Labor Party understand that this increase is right. The government is proposing it for the right reasons. It is fair across the board. It is a Labor proposal to fund the NDIS through an increase in the Medicare levy. Ultimately, we know that at that shadow cabinet meeting the vast majority of the shadow cabinet advocated for Labor to support what was a sensible measure to fund the NDIS.
More is going to be said about this in coming days and weeks because the NDIS is a critical government policy that has to be funded. If you do not fund it properly, you cannot deliver it. If you cannot deliver it, you will be letting down the hopes and the aspirations of so many people in Australia with a disability, their families and their carers. It is Labor's job to come forward and say how they would fund it if they are not prepared to do it through raising the Medicare levy, which has support from almost everybody in the sector—every economist and everyone who has analysed the budget. That is because they know that a small, modest increase across the board in the Medicare levy protects the most vulnerable in our society because they will not pay it. We have increased the threshold in response to this. It makes people pay only a proportion of their income in a fair way up the income scale so that the people who can afford it the most bear the greatest burden, recognising that it could be any one of us at any time who needs to rely on the NDIS. It could be any one of our family members at any time who needs to rely on the NDIS.
Once again, it is this government delivering. It is the government ensuring that we have funded the promises that we put forward and that they will be paid for in full without increasing the budget deficit and the debt that Australia faces. Nothing could be more important in this economic environment. For Labor to abandon economic and fiscal responsibility at this time is even more dangerous than when they did it last time when they inherited a budget surplus and a set of books that were in almost perfect working order and took it from that point to where we are today.
I also want to speak about the government's commitment to Western Sydney and all of the different infrastructure and other measures that the government is bringing forward. Nothing is more important, of course, to the future of Western Sydney than the government's absolute and rock-solid commitment to now fund and build the Western Sydney Airport. The Western Sydney Airport will be a key driver of economic growth, hope and aspirations for the future of Western Sydney. It will mean better transport and infrastructure in Western Sydney. It will mean more jobs. It will mean economic growth. It will mean opportunities in the region for young people out of work. It is a solid commitment of the Turnbull government to Western Sydney. I welcome the announcement from Minister Fletcher that we as a government will establish a new government owned company that will ensure the airport is operational by 2026. Nothing could be more important than this commitment to Western Sydney. This is a real plan.
We hear members opposite say, 'There is no commitment to infrastructure in this budget,' but, for the region of Western Sydney—one of the most important economic regions to our GDP in Australia, one of the most important major cities of Australia now and home to millions of people—we have funded $5.3 billion of equity into this company to build the Western Sydney Airport and have it open and operating by 2026. It is, of course, the case that we have the Labor Party's support for the establishment of the Western Sydney Airport. Shadow minister Mr Albanese, a former transport minister, has been clear that Labor's position is to support the building of the Western Sydney Airport. But we also know that there are some individual Labor members in Western Sydney who continue to oppose the construction of the Western Sydney Airport in defiance of Labor Party policy, common sense and the wishes of their electorates.
The member for Lindsay is here, and I note that she is one of the notable ones who opposes the Western Sydney Airport—as do the member for Macquarie and the member for Chifley. Why would you oppose this government building the Western Sydney Airport in a critical region like Western Sydney when it would be a real economic driver of jobs and growth? It is not government that is going to provide the jobs. It is not government that is going to build that infrastructure. It is going to be a key economic driver that provides for the infrastructure for many years to come. The economic zones that we will see in Western Sydney around this airport—the growth that will come with it, the housing, the commercial zones, the zones of excellence and the Defence industry zones that the Minister for Defence announced recently—are a real commitment to the future of Western Sydney. For the member for Lindsay, the member for Macquarie and the member for Chifley to oppose this airport in defiance of their own party policy is a poor approach from them. I would encourage them to get on board with their colleagues and shadow minister Mr Albanese, the member for Grayndler, and all of the other Labor Party members, who do support the establishment of the Western Sydney Airport.
There is a reason Labor is backing the government in building this airport. Those local members need to get with the program, because I do not believe that in their electorates you will find much opposition to this airport. People know. They are realistic, and they want the airport. This would not only be good for transport but also be good for the links—the new roads that will be upgraded. It will be good for jobs, it will be good for young people and it will be good for business. International passengers will be flying into Western Sydney and engaging in tourism in the Blue Mountains. You could go to any one of those Blue Mountains hotels or businesses affected by tourism in the Macquarie region, and all of them would tell you that they would absolutely welcome the Western Sydney Airport. They would welcome international visitors being able to fly almost directly into the gateway of Sydney—there in the Blue Mountains, with the beautiful national parks that we have—and the global opportunity that it represents in terms of tourism and expansion. Of course, there are other important commitments in this budget to infrastructure. We have seen many in Sydney, and that includes the Australian government's equity investment in the Moorebank Intermodal Company for the development of the Moorebank Logistics Park. They are key drivers of economic growth and activity in Sydney to make sure that we have this, and this is welcomed in my electorate as well.
I turn to many of the measures that we have seen the government fund in immigration and border protection, working with Minister Dutton in the portfolio. I was pleased to see that the government's technology rollout continues in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio. We are modernising our visa systems to facilitate economic growth and strengthen the intelligence measures that we have at the border to counter security threats. It is a good time on the economic side of the immigration portfolio because we have more tourists than ever before in Australia. We have more international students than ever before in Australia. We have more cargo movements than ever before in Australian history. The government, through its free trade agreements, its approach to international education and its approach to the tourism industry has driven real economic growth and growth in movements across the board. With this comes great challenge in the 21st century. We will see, through this budget, important measures in biometrics, important measures at SmartGate facilities and increased use of automation and technology to deal with the rising numbers of people coming for business and other reasons.
Ms Husar interjecting—
Mr HAWKE: The member for Lindsay is trying to interject something. I note that each week Border Force processes more than 600,000 people arriving or departing from Australia—a number expected to increase by 25 per cent in the next few years. It is vital, the investment that the federal government is making in SmartGate technology. It is vital, the investment in biometrics. In the security environment that we do face in today's world, these investments go a long way to protecting Australia and ensuring that the government and the department have the capability to meet the significant new security threat environment that we face with so much movement of people and goods across our borders.
We have also seen changes to the foreign workers program, the discredited 457 visa program, which was really exploited under Minister Bill Shorten in the Labor Party in the last Labor government. Those 457 changes include the scrapping of the scheme and the introduction of a genuine temporary skill shortage visa system on a two-year or four-year basis, with the flexibility for the government to increase or remove occupations as necessary. Those changes mean that this government is really addressing the concerns of the electorate in relation to skills shortages, ensuring that those businesses that have genuine skills shortages—that have searched for Australians and were unable to find them in a genuine way—are able to take advantage of either a two-year or four-year temporary visa for their workforce. There are occupations which have been on the list for too long, that have not been reviewed properly over many years and that have been the subject of many agreements under the Labor Party—I think the fast food agreement, for example, is one. 457s were brought into the fast food industry, and this has been scrapped under this government. There are many examples along this line.
This government is actually implementing right and responsible changes to make sure that the new temporary skilled shortage visa is a temporary visa, that it is for a genuine temporary skills shortage and that it is for a shorter period. We are able then to ensure that Australians are offered those jobs first. If you look at the maritime industry, we have taken ships officer, ships engineer and occupations like that off the list, recognising that there is a downturn in our mining sector. We recognise that there are many Australians now unemployed here who have the qualifications to operate these ships in our waters. Whatever sector you go to, these changes will mean a better outcome for Australian jobseekers who have the skills to do these jobs. It will mean that those companies from overseas who want to do business here will have to look for Australians first and more genuinely. It is, of course, in line with the government's policies to make sure that Australian based companies and people who do business here genuinely offer Australians, whether they be graduates or more-experienced people, those jobs first. That two-year work experience qualification is perhaps the most important element of this program, under which you will not be able to offer to graduates from overseas jobs that you should have offered to graduates in Australia or to people here with similar experience. It will not be the case anymore that graduates from overseas who are straight out of university will be offered jobs before Australian graduates.
Overall, this budget is making the right choices for our future. It is restraining expenditure, which is perhaps the most important challenge of any budget of this era that we live in, with the global economic downturn and the debt-and-deficit challenge that faces this country. We are restraining expenditure. We are increasing expenditure and funding measures in critical areas that people expect us to, such as education, health and the NDIS. At the same time, we are responsibly managing the economy to make sure that there are more jobs, that there is the growth we need to drive our future and that infrastructure critical to the future of our nation, like the Western Sydney Airport, goes ahead, funded by equity from the government in a responsible way that will mean that we do not go into further debt and further deficit.