Parliamentary Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - National Disability Insurance Scheme (1)

26 October 2020

I'm pleased to support this motion moved by my colleague the member for Maribyrnong today. I thank him for his passion and commitment to the thousands of people who are on the NDIS, which is such a vital support for so many in my community and in communities across the country. The NDIS is a great legacy of a Labor government and was created to provide a better life for people living with a disability. But we know the reality of the NDIS under this government is far from what Labor envisaged. The system as it stands has a number of glaring issues.


People living with disability haven't forgotten the $4.6 billion which was ripped out of the system last year, which this government attempted to spin as an underspend. They haven't forgotten, because this so-called underspend isn't just a buffer to this government's bottom line, it's a real cut to the funding provided to NDIS participants and to the level of care they receive. People in my community have become housebound for months waiting for a piece of equipment to be approved. People's conditions are worsening while they wait for support. The member for Maribyrnong will remember well the heartbreaking story we heard when visiting the Northern School for Autism, in my electorate of Cooper, of a family forced to relinquish care of their child after being denied the respite care they so desperately needed.


Then there's the issue of flexible and tailored plans. All too often I hear stories of people having to justify the slightest change to their plan or an expense that falls just outside what the person on the other end of the phone actually needs. Ask anyone about the delays to have plans reviewed. For many people, their disability doesn't fall neatly into a category. Their situation is complex and it's intricate, and they need support that is directly tailored to their individual and family needs. Individualised, high-quality support plans were at the core of what Labor envisaged the NDIS to be, and they have been sacrificed under this government.


So in 2019, when a review into the system was undertaken by David Tune, there was hope that perhaps there would be some action to address these issues. The review found that it was worth looking at how assessments work and that to do so the government should run some pilot programs of an independent assessment system. This is reasonable. You trial alternatives, you consult with the sector and you see how a different approach may benefit participants in the functioning of the system. So when the government announced they'd be proceeding with independent assessments, you'd be forgiven for expecting they must have completed some pilots, just as the Tune review recommended. But again they've cut corners and gone their own way, ignoring expert advice. The government announced two pilot programs, the first of which was unrepresentative on just about every level you could imagine and the second of which ended early due to COVID. So they've failed to successfully trial this new system for assessments, but not only have they failed to trial it, as recommended by the review, they've failed to consult.


I recently held a virtual forum with the member for Maribyrnong, where we got to hear from people living with disability and their carers, support workers and advocates. I can tell you the confusion and fear around independent assessments is palpable. They don't know how it will work. They don't know what it will mean for their plans or what effect it will have on the support they have available to them, and, rightfully, they are fearful it will mean less support. They know that this government has real form on that. As it stands, we won't even get the chance to get answers to these questions here in parliament. Rather than introducing these changes through legislation, as the Tune review recommended, the government plans on sneaking them through in regulatory changes.


When there's so much at stake, NDIS participants at the very least deserve these changes to be properly scrutinised and, if necessary, challenged by this parliament. So much for transparency being the key to this government's approach. Where is the fair period of consultation? Where are the assurances that services won't be cut, that barriers to access won't be raised, that people won't be worse off? The government refuse to provide these assurances. So I echo the words of the member for Maribyrnong to those opposite: pause the rollout of the independent assessment program; properly consult with people living with disability and their families, their carers and the sector; and be transparent about how these changes will affect their lives. NDIS participants deserve to be involved in changes to the system. They deserve transparency. They deserve to be heard.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS - COVID-19: Finance Sector Workers, AFL Grand Final 2020

22 October 2020

Frontline workers have been the heroes of this pandemic, especially for us in Victoria. So many people have kept us fed, healthy, connected and alive. But today I want to acknowledge those workers we ask for help when we are in financial stress, and, sadly, there are plenty of people in dire straits. Frontline workers in banks have been stressed all through this awful pandemic and are at heightened risk of infection. FSU members have spoken to me about what they face: people shouting out in anger and anxiety, and sometimes tearful and sobbing, desperate for help. Banking retail outlets have become tension-ridden workplaces, with staff exposed every day. The staff have had their workloads increased inexorably and they are going home with stress etched into their faces. One worker told me her child asks her, when she gets home, did she catch the virus that day? The FSU are asking our incredibly profitable banks for a small financial compensation for their frontline staff. Surely the banks can do this.

But, on a lighter note, my lovely partner, Leigh, is a Geelong Cats supporter, and I am a die-in-the-ditch Richmond Tigers fan, born in the heart of Tiger land. Needless to say, my household is a little tense at the moment because, whilst love technically has no bounds, I'm afraid my love for the Tigers cannot be surpassed. I am proud to have a Dinny Kunoth Kemarre sculpture of the wonderful Dusty Martin in my office, thanks to the APH art collection. So, for Saturday—I'm sorry to say to my partner—Go Tiges!


08 October 2020

On Tuesday night, the Morrison government had an opportunity; they had an opportunity to build a better, more resilient, more equitable economy and society from the ashes of COVID, and they squibbed it. I asked my community of Cooper what they thought of the budget and, as usual, they did not hold back. So, in under a minute, here are the 10 worst things in the Morrison budget.

One, there is no plan for and no commitment to full employment—160,000 Australians are expected to lose their job between now and Christmas. Two, if anyone wants to know what happens when there aren't enough women sitting around the cabinet table, they should look at this budget. There's nothing new on fixing the gender pay gap, improving super balances or funding domestic and family violence services. Three, it punishes those looking for work. There are 27,000 Cooper residents depending on JobKeeper who will lose $300 a fortnight. Four, the government has cut Australia's refugee intake by 5,000 places a year and continues to leave so many people seeking asylum without an income. Five, there is nothing for residential aged care—the biggest policy failure during COVID, and not a cent put forward to fix it. Six, two big communities in Cooper will receive nothing: our artists and our uni workers. Seven, they're doubling the cost of going to university and there's no new money for TAFE. Eight, our kids' futures are still at risk, with no plan to tackle the climate emergency. Nine, there is nothing for social housing. Ten, no plan to make early childhood education affordable. 

BILLS - Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

01 September 2020

 I'd like to acknowledge that I'm speaking on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

What a friendless bill this is. It is so friendless that even the coalition's partner the Nationals don't even really like it. This is a dangerous bill. It's dangerous because it will mean that Australia and Australians will be far the worse for it. It is dangerous because it has the potential to see this country go backwards. It's dangerous because it will stymy the potential that we know Australia harbours, that we harbour in the minds and the future growth of our youth. It's dangerous because it tells some of our brightest and most ambitious young folk that they are not valued, that their talents are not wanted and that their potential is not worth the time or the trouble to invest in. What kind of government would say and do that to our future?

Despite the hubris and the marketing speak of the minister, this is a bill that will make it harder and more expensive to go to university. This is a bill that gives universities fewer resources and then asks them to do more with less. This is a bill that does not begin to expand places nearly enough to meet the huge growth in demand we've already seen from students who want to go to university or TAFE. This is a bill that says it's promoting science and engineering when in fact it actually does the exact opposite, and it is a bill that says social sciences or humanities have no value. It's a disgraceful and dangerous bill. Perhaps if the member for Wannon had undertaken a degree in social sciences, he might have actually helped draft a bill that assisted kids to go to university. You'd think that a government would want that. As it currently stands, the bill will make it harder and more expensive for our kids to go to university. As the National Tertiary Education Union said, it's a headline-grabbing assortment of student fee hikes and student fee discounts that has cunningly hidden the government's most important decision—to make real cuts to university funding and real increases to the average fees paid by Australian students.

I'd like to acknowledge my colleague the member for Sydney for her incredible work on this. She is the real deal. She knows what it takes to be the smart country, to unlock potential and to make kids feel valued for who they are and for what strengths they have. Labor's position on this is loud and clear: we do not support this bill. We do not love this bill. Deputy Speaker, let me count the ways and take you to the depths and breadths of the problems with this bill.

Firstly, many students will pay more, some much more than others. This Liberal government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support people in a pandemic. Thanks to the union movement and thanks to Labor, they were forced into a position where they had to agree to a package to help those affected by the crisis. But, of course, they left many people out, and we've had a lot to say about that. The fact is that this government does not like supporting everyday people. We know how they feel about Medicare. They think if you're sick, you should pay for your own health care. If you're unemployed, bad luck—it's your fault. If you're young, you don't deserve help. If you're old—well, we know what they think about that. And if you want a good education, you can pay for it yourself.

Only last week, I think it was, the Treasurer confirmed this when he wistfully invoked the memories of Thatcher and Reagan, confirming that he and his government don't believe in society. They think there are only individuals out there, on their own, with their bootstraps. So it's no surprise to see that the central purpose of this legislation is to push the cost of education onto students, onto individuals. As I said, it's in the Liberal Party's DNA to make individuals bear a larger share of the cost of their education and for the government to bear as little as possible.

On average under this legislation, students will pay seven per cent more for their degrees. Forty per cent of students will have their fees increased to $14,500 a year—doubling the cost for thousands. Some students will see increases of 113 per cent. That means people studying the humanities, commerce and communications will pay more for their degrees than doctors and dentists. Year 12 students have persevered through incredible uncertainty this year. The last thing we should be doing right now is making it harder and more expensive for kids to get into university or saying to them, 'Your strengths, your potential, are not valued.' We are in the depths of recession. Youth unemployment has gone through the roof, rising by more than 90,000 in recent months alone. True to the Liberal government, they say, 'Bad luck'. As the member for Sydney said earlier, how dare you limit the potential of some of our kids. In a country like Australia, every child should have the opportunity to go to university to fulfil their own potential.

The second main problem with this bill is that it is a pea and thimble trick. Universities will get less to do more. If you actually believed the minister, you would think this bill was flooding the higher ed sector with money, but the effect of this bill, as I said, is to actually increase the student fee burden but at the same time reduce the Commonwealth funding to the sector—and not by a small amount, either. It will cut $1 billion from universities. The average funding per student paid to universities will drop by 5.8 per cent. By reducing expenditure in the higher-cost disciplines, the government is expecting universities to deliver high-quality teaching and student support with even less funding. These cuts are on top of the $16 billion projected revenue drop due to the loss of international students and the $2.2 billion cuts already made to university funding by the government. La Trobe University in my electorate has been hit hard: hundreds of jobs lost and no access to JobKeeper. As we know, the government specifically changed the rules in universities to access JobKeeper.

But wait; there's more. The third major problem is that it has built in perverse incentives. It's completely unclear what on earth the member for Wannon was trying to achieve here, but the incentives in their legislation work against the stated aims of the government's own policy. Either they think the Australian people are stupid or they themselves are not really very bright. In areas where the government want greater enrolment, they are paying universities less per student. To be clear, while promising to support the study of maths, science and engineering, this legislation reduces the money that universities will receive to provide those courses. It provides a disincentive for universities to enrol extra students in these disciplines and a perverse incentive to enrol students in other areas which will deliver more funding. I ask you: go figure, Deputy Speaker.

A fourth issue with this bill is: what's wrong with studying humanities? What's wrong with studying commerce or social sciences? I think this is the part of the legislation that infuriates me the most. It's an attack on humanities degrees with the assumption built in that graduates of these degrees amount to nothing or add no value. In fact the job prospects of humanities students are very healthy. According to recent research, people with humanities degrees have the same employment rates as science or maths graduates. Humanities degrees are the ones that teach students how to critically study the world. As Robert French, Chancellor of UWA and former High Court Chief Justice, said:

"Humanities is the vehicle through which we understand our society, our history, our culture.

I'm not talking about the more obscure courses. The mainstream of humanities allows teachers and universities to transmit our history and our society to students."

What's wrong with having more experts in the humanities? What's wrong with having more experts in child welfare? What's wrong with having experts in family and domestic violence, in helping disadvantaged youth in drug and alcohol recovery, or in international relations? What's wrong with having more authors and more people shaping our cultural growth? And what's wrong with having success stories like that told by the previous speaker, the wonderful member for Macquarie, about the young woman, Ellie, who is so successful in doing research improving lives? We need more critical thinkers, especially when we have people like the member for Hughes peddling dangerous myths, when my inbox is swamped with people sucked in by crazy conspiracy theories and when international diplomatic expertise is vitally important. Surely we need more people to study humanities, not fewer.

This bill is reckless. It makes it more expensive to go to university. It cuts university funding. It doesn't even set out to do what it's supposed to do. It locks kids out of their full potential, and it will send Australia backwards. This bill is a dangerous bill, and, no, we do not support it.

BILLS - Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

31 August 2020

 I'd like to acknowledge that I'm standing on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations here in my electorate of Cooper, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 and to support the amendment moved by my wonderful colleague the member for Barton. I pay my respects to the Mirarr Aboriginal people, who are the traditional owners of the Jabiru township.


As the member for Barton has indicated, Labor will support this bill. It will at last return the ownership of the town of Jabiru to the Mirarr people and allow for a community entity representing the Mirarr to hold a head lease over the town. It is a move long awaited by the Mirarr people and is supported by the Northern Territory land councils, and means that the traditional owners will at last be able to make decisions that uphold their cultural connection to the land.


This is a great outcome for the Mirarr people, who have withstood immense pressure from political and mining industry influences and worked so hard to maintain their own cultural identity and connection to the land. I offer my warmest congratulations to them and wish them all the very best in their endeavours to transform Jabiru from a town focused on mining to one based on the social, cultural and natural resource wealth of the region. As the member for Barton said, Labor stand with them in this hope, as we are committed to greater self-determination for First Nations Australians.


It is important that the House is reminded that it was a Labor government, back in October 2009, which set this course of Mirarr self-determination, with an in-principle agreement for amendments to the land rights act. In January last year Labor committed to a major upgrade of the Kakadu National Park visitor facilities. Undoubtedly, it was the knowledge of that commitment that spurred the Prime Minister to commit similar funding.


My electorate is named after William Cooper, a proud Yorta Yorta man. I am lucky enough to have met his direct descendant—his grandson, Alfred Cooper, known as Uncle Boydie—who came to Melbourne from his own lands to celebrate the electorate's renaming. Uncle Phil Cooper is a friend of mine and a great support to me. He is a great-nephew of William Cooper and resides in my seat, along with his family.


William Cooper was an Aboriginal leader born in Yorta Yorta tribal territory, around the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, who lived from 1861 to 1941. He was a trailblazing activist for Aboriginal rights in the 20th century who spent his life working to advance the rights of our First Nations peoples. He was a skilled and courageous spokesperson who helped establish the Australian Aborigines' League, an organisation that fought for rights for our First Nations Australians. These included land rights, enfranchisement and, topically, direct representation in our parliament. William Cooper forged the establishment of National Aborigines Day, which is now celebrated nationwide as NAIDOC Week. He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a prime minister, to ask for federal control of Aboriginal affairs, in 1938.


He's also famous for standing up for other persecuted groups. Despite his own people's struggles, he led a protest at the German consulate in Melbourne against Nazi persecution of the Jewish community. This has been recognised by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as the only protest of its kind to have taken place in the world. He collected 1,814 signatures from Aboriginal people all over Australia, and a statue in his home town of Shepparton now honours that legacy. The statue depicts him holding that petition.


William Cooper was also a proud union man, an AWU member who laid the foundation for Indigenous industrial rights today. His legacy has inspired positive social change for First Nations communities in Melbourne and throughout Australia.


He would have been thrilled to know that the Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of the Cooper electorate's identity. Many First Nations peoples live and work in Cooper. That seat that now bears his name is home to many great Aboriginal organisations: the Aborigines Advancement League; the mighty All Stars football team; the Sir Douglas Nicholls Sporting Complex; the Aboriginal voice radio 3KND—that's 'Kool 'N' Deadly'; the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service; the Victorian Child Care Agency; the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, on campuses of the Federation University; the Victoria Aboriginal Community Services Association, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for Victoria; and Yappera Children's Service Co-operative.


It is also the home to the extraordinary Aboriginal owned social enterprise called Spark Health that trades as Clothing The Gap. Laura Thompson is the amazing Aboriginal woman who created the organisation. One hundred per cent of the profits from the sales of their fabulous clothing go to support, educate, advocate for and celebrate black excellence, adding value to Aboriginal people's lives. Their clothing is exemplary and proudly Aboriginal. Like so many Aboriginal organisations, they incorporated the wonderful Aboriginal flag into their designs. Those ubiquitous colours—red, black and yellow—are proudly flown by their products.


In June last year, Clothing The Gap, along with other businesses and NGOs, including several sporting codes, were issued with a cease and desist notice from WAM Clothing for celebrating and displaying the Aboriginal flag on clothing. Currently, WAM Clothing holds an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the flag's copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to produce the Aboriginal flag. First Nations leaders and business operators are now expressing their grave concerns about this copyright agreement. The copyright of the Aboriginal flag is valid for Harold Thomas' life plus another 70 years, so potentially we are looking at another 100 years until the rights of the flag enter the public domain. I ask this: should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, control the market and profit from the resistance, resilience and perseverance of Indigenous people?


Laura and her colleagues started the Free the Flag campaign, and there's a petition that was created by Clothing The Gap. Over 140,000 people have signed the #PrideNotProfit petition, which is calling for a change to the current licensing arrangements around the Aboriginal flag, with the common goal of freeing the flag from copyright. I'm proud to be an advocate for and a supporter of the campaign. I have worked with Laura and others in ensuring that senior Labor politicians are also supporting the campaign, and I was pleased to be able to host Laura and Nova Peris in Canberra so that they could discuss the campaign with parliamentarians.


As the member for Barton has already noted, Australia is made up of many Aboriginal nations, as well as the Torres Strait Islanders, and the Aboriginal flag is the one symbol that unites those nations. And yet we are slowly seeing the flag disappear because of WAM's decision to enforce its licensing rights. The famous red, black and yellow flag was missing from the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round. Instead, we saw a number of AFL teams sporting 'Free the Flag' guernseys at training, as the AFL is no longer able to incorporate the flag into their Dreamtime clothing. Many NGOs, including Aboriginal health bodies, proudly and successfully offer things like T-shirts with the flag on them as an incentive to attend and have health checks. They can no longer afford to do that now.


We hope many more organisations and people will join the protest and make it known that the flag should be able to be flown freely. Labor is now calling on the federal government to do more to protect the Aboriginal flag, which, as some say, is being held hostage. As the member for Barton said in her second reading amendment, the government should do everything in its power to free the flag so that it can be used by all Australians, while still respecting and protecting the rights of Harold Thomas.


Most flags, including the Australian flag, have their copyrights owned by the government and remain in the public domain, free for all to use. In terms of the nation, flags are the most public pieces of public property. Logically, there is an inherent contradiction when the Aboriginal flag is privately owned. Importantly, the government also recognised and proclaimed the Aboriginal flag in 1995, and again in 2018, under the Flags Act. Therefore, there is a legitimate expectation of free use of that flag.


Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians want no more and no fewer rights to the Aboriginal flag than we do to the Australian flag or the Torres Strait Islander flag. I commend the work of Clothing The Gap, Dreamtime Kullilla-Art and each and every organisation and individual who has added their voice to the call to free the flag. In the words of Laura Thompson, 'The flag represented a struggle and a resistance movement, and now it just feels like a struggle to use it.' Next year, in July, the flag will turn 50. Laura wants it freed by then. As the member for Barton has said, 'WAM should do the right thing and give the flag back.' Just because something might be legal does not mean it is right.


In my first speech, I said that the value of solidarity is what will drive me as a politician. I said:


"Solidarity is the expression of our shared humanity. It is the importance of not merely reaching out but standing beside. Solidarity is not individual charity but collective empowerment. Solidarity does not subsidise; it does not patronise. It is the fundamental recognition that the greatest human dignity is the experience of opportunity and equality."


Today I stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples in their quest to free the flag.

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Environment, Employment

31 August 2020

I rise to speak on the motion moved by my colleague the member for Griffith, and I do so acknowledging that I am on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations. I would like to congratulate the member for holding this government to account so well. She has summed up their disregard for the protection of our environment perfectly.

But, if I'm being honest, it isn't all that hard for us on this side of the House to list the failures of this Liberal government when it comes to the protection of our environment. The Auditor-General has done that for us. Their report tells the story of a government whose cuts and neglect have caught up to them. It's estimated that they have cut funding to the environment department by 40 per cent. It's no wonder, then, that decisions under the EPBC Act are so chronically delayed or that 79 per cent of the approvals that the Auditor-General assessed were noncompliant or contained errors. This is blatant mismanagement at a time when the Samuel review's interim record is telling us environmental protection has experienced a steady decline over the past 20 years, leaving a trail of destruction. This is a federal government that, under this Prime Minister, takes no responsibility for its actions and its appalling outcomes. We see time and time again that they engage in blame shifting and responsibility dodging. Just look at the tragedy that is aged care.

I am proud to stand here as the member for Cooper. My community know we are facing a climate emergency. They know we are facing extinction crises. They know that the Morrison government is failing when it comes to protecting natural resources, our wildlife, our waterways, our forests and our future. There are those who shrug off calls for environmental protection as cries of the privileged or dismiss the issues as elitist. They tell us that we cannot have action on climate change or action to protect our environment whilst creating jobs and supporting livelihoods. This is rubbish. In my electorate of Cooper I have people from all walks of life, from factory workers, tradies and coffee roasters in Reservoir to retail workers and university protesters in Northcote, all telling me the same thing: we are living in the time of a climate crisis. We want action. We need action. It is not a privileged viewpoint to say that we need a strong regulator with adequate resources to do their job. It's not a privileged viewpoint to say degradation of the environment is worth properly monitoring and halting. It is not a privileged viewpoint to want this Liberal government to do its job, because, in fact, we see by these latest reports that it is doing the opposite of protecting our beautiful natural heritage: it is wilfully destroying it.

Each week I get hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls from constituents right across my electorate, and indeed the country, across industries and across all political parties who can see the realities of climate change and environmental neglect by this Liberal government. They are exhausted by what they're seeing and the effort to make change. But they won't give up and neither will I. We can see the increasing intensity of bushfires and the health impacts of the climate emergency. We're horrified by coral bleaching and the potential for the extinction of koalas in the wild—indeed, the extinction of the natural habitats of many of our native species.

We need a government that is prepared to make Australia a global leader in climate action, a country which preserves and protects its beautiful environmental assets and benefits from the thousands of jobs real action on these issues would create. Only people with their heads in the sand—fast-disappearing sand dunes in some cases—cannot see the abundance of potential in a fast-tracked sustainable future with jobs, jobs, jobs in industries of the future, with our natural environs intact. This is not a pipedream. Other countries are beating us to it. Other countries with the guts and foresight are going to reap the benefits of the global shift to renewables. We will be left behind if this government has its way. For this shift to happen, the Liberal government will need to start listening to the experts and the Australian people, whether they be in inner-city electorates or in regional and rural communities, who are demanding change.

But, sadly, it's becoming clearer and clearer that the government simply aren't up to the task. They're more interested in playing the politics of division than protecting our environment and creating jobs. The Leader of the Opposition and our side have offered to work collaboratively. It's time for the Prime Minister to step up; protect our environment, which is being destroyed; create the jobs of the future; and ensure a decent future for all Australians. It's not too much to ask them to do their job.

BILLS - Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

31 August 2020

I take no joy in speaking to this bill, the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, because this bill really shouldn't exist. I'll say at the outset: Labor does not support it, and we made it very clear to the minister why. The intent of this bill is to allow the minister to prohibit or ban almost any item from use within an immigration detention facility, including alternative forms of detention.


The bill applies to visa holders who have had their visas cancelled due to committing a crime or who are in detention, waiting to be deported home—despite having served their sentences here—and also to people who are seeking asylum and refugees. These are people who have sought Australia's protection and who have been detained indefinitely by the Morrison government. It is not a crime to seek asylum, so let's unpack the Orwellian language contained in the bill and break down what it really means.


It gives police-like powers to so-called 'authorised officers' and to unnamed 'other' persons—for example, Serco guards—to unilaterally decide to ban any object. It gives them powers to conduct personal searches without any reason of suspicion. It allows them to use strip searches and police dogs to look for these items. It allows this to happen in places like the Mantra hotel in my seat of Cooper, where people seeking asylum are being detained after being medevacked here due to their deteriorating mental and physical health.


The bill is just so typical of this Liberal government: an overreach designed to try to convince Australians that refugees who arrive in Australia by boat are bad and dangerous. The crux of this bill is actually the confiscation of mobile phones, which are currently used appropriately by the vast majority of detainees to keep themselves connected to their families, lawyers, doctors and community supporters, and to information about the outside world. Labor has been very clear about its opposition to this bill since 2017, when the government first tried to introduce it. Both times, Labor have issued a dissenting report to the committee set up to investigate it. We have outlined seven recommendations, including that the government withdraw and rewrite the bill or significantly amend the bill to ensure that it doesn't impose broad, sweeping measures that punish detainees. Labor unequivocally do not support phones being removed from detainees who have done nothing wrong. Labor have written to the acting minister, outlining our concerns and noting that if government refuses to accept all our recommendations and properly amend the legislation then the bill should not be passed.


My colleagues have noted that the government already has broad powers under the Migration Act and has failed to make the case as to why illegal activities in detention centres cannot be handled on a case-by-case basis or through existing state, territory and Commonwealth laws, so I want to focus on the real intent behind this bill.


As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre stated in their submission, this bill only exists to:

… remove detainees' access to devices with internet connectivity, which are their 'life-line' to family, community support, lawyers and medical assistance; and—

Most significantly—

to prevent public scrutiny and accountability for what is occurring within our detention centres.


As I said earlier, my seat of Cooper takes in the Mantra hotel where around 50 people seeking asylum have been detained since coming to Australia under the medevac process. Every person in this group of transferees was prescreened for character or security issues before they were allowed to enter Australia. This cohort presents no risk to the Australian community.


They are my constituents. Some are my friends. I have met the men and have been fighting to have them released into the community. I speak to a number of them on their mobile phones. I will not support a bill which takes away their phones. Their phones are their lifelines. The refugees at the Mantra and in other places of detention have children. They have wives, families and friends. They are not singular entities defined by their decision to seek asylum.


This passage from the ASRC's submission should make any reasonable person want to dump this bill and never let it see the light of day:


I have a son who I talk to every day and my partner and my family that is everything that I ever cared about. If they take our phone away from us, it's going to break us. The bond that I have with my kid is the main thing. Everything about it will break us if they take our phone away. The phone is the only good thing that we have. I can talk to my son on video and feel like I'm there with him even though I'm not there. This gives me confidence in life that all these things that are happening to me are not too bad after all.


We have witnessed the mental and physical deterioration of people in long-term detention as their spirits break and hope disappears. Their connections to family and friends through their mobile phones are the last threads which hold them together. Their phones are also their connections to legal representation. Again, as submitted by the ASRC:


… in recent years all physical visits to detention centres, including professional visits, have become much more cumbersome and difficult to obtain approval for, and to arrange. In this context of isolating detainees from visitors, there is now much greater reliance by lawyers and others on contacting detainees' via their personal phones.


This concern was shared by the Law Council in their submission:

… the Bill … and … its explicit focus on mobile phones, has the potential make access to legal representation and support significantly more difficult, and will unjustifiably exacerbate what is already a challenging environment that must operate within strict procedural time limitations.


66. Mobile phones … are critical to ensuring that the detainee is aware of their right to legal advice in the first place—a right which is not made sufficiently clear.


Refugees have also used their mobile phones to speak out on the cruelty of their situation. The images beamed out from inside the facilities put names to faces. In the media now we regularly see Moz and Farhad, including on ABC's Q+A. The mobile phones give us a glimpse of life behind the locked gates and fences—and, you know, Australians don't like what they see. They don't believe in locking up people who've committed no crime. They don't support denying people medical treatment. They think it's crazy to lock up a family with two young kids on Christmas Island when their community of Biloela wants them home. My community of Cooper regularly tell me how sickened and saddened they are to be governed by a party who continues with the cruel policy of indefinite detention. I don't doubt the desire to silence these brave refugees also lies at the heart of this bill. I don't doubt that there is a desire to silence these brave refugees.


No-one is capable of enduring the torture of indefinite detention. Again, the ASRC:


Continued detention of these refugees, many with histories of trauma, is used as collective punishment for them having attempted to exercise their right to seek Australia's protection more than seven years ago.


After up to seven years on Manus or Nauru, the men at the Mantra have been confined to cramped hotel rooms for more than 12 months. They're unable to go outside except for sparse rostered visits to closed detention facilities to exercise. The COVID outbreak has been extremely stressful, and many are rapidly deteriorating in terms of mental and physical health. I wrote to the minister back in April requesting that he consider community detention as a way to minimise the risk of a COVID outbreak. The UNHCR, lawyers and public health officials made similar requests. The government's response to the risk of a COVID outbreak is to threaten the men with a move to over 3,000 kilometres away, to Yongah Hill, where they will lose access to their caseworkers, legal representation and community supports. All the while, they are facing the prospect of losing access to their phones—their one connection to the outside world.


I genuinely fear what the passing of this legislation will do to the refugees. So I end with a plea to those who sit opposite. The people affected by this bill have been through enough. Many have escaped war, famine and other horrors and have spent much of the last seven years detained by this government. This government has the power to drop this bill. It has the power to release refugees, where appropriate, into community detention. It can make sure that refugees and people seeking asylum have access to medical treatment, and, most importantly, it has the power to resettle these people in safe, permanent homes. They must do this. They must act justly and with humanity.

BILLS - Treasury Laws Amendment (More Flexible Superannuation) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

27 August 2020

 I speak to you from the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I congratulate the member for Hotham on a very fine summary of the situation that working Australians are facing right now and particularly with respect to the Liberal government's handling of superannuation.


As has been indicated, Labor supports the Treasury Laws Amendment (More Flexible Superannuation) Bill 2020. It makes changes to the bring-forward rule for non-concessional superannuation contributions, to allow those at ages 65 and 66 to make up three years of concessional superannuation contributions. This is actually a sensible move by the government, which, to be honest, I struggled to say in all sincerity. It's a rare occasion that we can say this government is doing anything positive with respect to superannuation and, in particular, industry superannuation.


This government has spent hours and hours of this House's valuable time chasing rabbits down holes, trying to attack industry superannuation. I actually half expect the member for Goldstein to rush in here at any minute and say, 'Wait, no! It's all a bad mistake.' He'll say, 'Superannuation has connections to workers' wellbeing, to workers' savings.' My God, we're giving workers the chance to save and manage capital! That can't be good. Industry super, of course, has connections to—horror of horrors—workers' representatives, trade unions.


I'm going to take the opportunity here to say that trade unions represent around two million workers in this country. They are larger than any membership based organisation in Australia. Their hard-won enterprise bargain agreements, along with the awards system, cover over 60 per cent of workers in this country, protecting wages and conditions. That's a far bigger reach than the member for Goldstein's precious little IPA can claim. It's a piddling little dark evil corner of the country that produces mean-spirited men in suits trying to drag workers' conditions back to pre-industrial days of serfdom and slavery.


But, in all seriousness, my point is that superannuation is a Labor legacy. It has done a power of good for this nation. It is the envy of the world with respect to retirement savings schemes—and those opposite hate it—particularly industry superannuation funds, the most trusted and highly performing financial institutions in Australia.


As long as I can remember those in the Liberal Party have tried to destroy this institution. Just last week, I was watching a YouTube video of Paul Keating in this very House stand at that despatch box and speak to the legislation that set up nine per cent superannuation guarantee contributions. If you can, you should Google it. It's a fine example of Keating mastery. He had a vision for this country, one that we share—a vision for working people: one where workers could retire with twice the pension value. He spoke of how proud he was of our superannuation scheme and how it was way in advance of other countries. He spoke of it as the great reform it really was and he compared that with the coalition's mean-spirited need to—and I quote Paul Keating—'Kick working and poorer people in the teeth whenever they get the chance.'


Back then, when it became apparent that the Libs couldn't stop the superannuation guarantee being legislated, they tried to tax it out of existence, trying to whack an effective tax rate of 40 per cent on super savings, making it so unattractive as to turn people away from it. How stupid do they look now. Keating described how it was one of the most important large-scale mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth between generations. In fact, can you believe it, he quoted Michael Stutchbury, when Michael was a more progressive type, who said it would remove the 'demographic tug-of-war by setting up a funded scheme'. Mr Stutchbury seems to have been seduced by the dark side of economics since then but, nevertheless, Keating went on to say that it smoothed the onus of caring for our elderly across the generations, rather than leaving it to the younger generations coming behind, especially with respect to the baby boomer generation which has resulted in a growing ageing population who will rely on a smaller, younger income-earning cohort of taxpayers.


This government talk about intergenerational debt a lot and yet they want to dismantle the one institution that ensures the fairness of funding retirement costs by constantly attacking industry super. Time and time again, they come after the super funds, despite industry super being shown year after year to be the best place for workers' money to grow for retirement. Returns are the best. Just look up the top quartile funds and you'll see that most retail funds don't even put in a show. Yet, that is where this government wants workers' moneys to go, to their mates in the big banks who no-one trusts, whose practices were so bad that we needed a royal commission into their behaviour and who have hurt so many hard-working Australians living, and sadly dead, and, as we know, going after deceased person's money is not beyond them. No such behaviour was found to come from the industry funds, who sailed through the royal commission with flying colours.


So why do the government want to squander workers' money and condemn them to underfunded retirements? Well, other than helping their mates at the banks, it's because unions are involved in industry funds' governance structures. I reckon that's it, really—quite pathetic. Let's look at the facts. The boards of industry super funds do have union representatives on them. I myself had the honour of being a board member of HESTA and then Cbus. It's a great honour and responsibility to be one of the custodians of members' money, because I saw every member of those funds as my members. I was head of the nurses union when I was at HESTA. A huge proportion of nurses are members of HESTA. I still am. I took every decision that I had to make knowing that I had to answer to and was accountable to my members. When I was at Cbus, I was the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, so every union member was my member. That weighs heavily on one's shoulders—knowing that people have put their retirement savings in your hands. It's an extra level of accountability that for-profit directors don't have. The retail funds have to worry about shareholders first and retirees second.


But what those on the other side never mention to anyone is that employers also sit at those board tables. There is equal representation of workers and employers. You never hear that, do you? They on that side want to make it sound like it's all about unions. As a union rep, I'd have loved to have actually taken the credit for what is one of the most successful superannuation sectors in the world, but I can't take all of it, because employers—like MBA, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, aged-care providers, private hospital associations, private building contractors and others—sit on the HESTA and Cbus boards. They are also making decisions about investments and governance of the funds. If the industry funds are as heinous as the Libs would have us believe, then so are their buddies on all those employer bodies.


Deputy Speaker, did you know that APRA monitor compliance of industry super with a fine-tooth comb, checking everything twice, like Santa? Nothing gets away from them. The level of scrutiny is beyond compare. It seems the compliance bodies could have done a better job with the banks' superannuation businesses, I might say, as we saw from the royal commission into the banks. The industry funds do well—far better than the retail for-profit funds. Trillions of dollars are now invested into industry super—workers' capital that is used for workers' and the community's benefit. And still the government come after the sector, trying to force them out of business, trying to break down governance arrangements or trying to stop the all-important insurance arrangements. Do you know that an average worker in the construction sector would not be able to afford insurance if it weren't for the buying power provided by the collective of Cbus? That means thousands of workers in an industry where they are more likely to be injured at work would be at risk of having no insurance at all if it weren't for their industry super fund. Those opposite might hate that. I'm proud of it, proud to say their livelihoods are protected by their fund. Like Paul Keating, I am proud of what we have created, what Labor and the trade union movement have created.


The coalition have delayed the SG increases needed to get the contribution up to 12 per cent, the amount of superannuation guarantee that is generally agreed will be needed for decent retirements. They don't support women accruing super when on paid maternity leave, a vital component of closing the gender pay gap. They're trying to stop workers bargaining for their own default fund. They tried to dismantle the default system, aiding and abetting the for-profit retail super funds in securing workers' retirement savings—to the workers' detriment, I might add—all while maintaining the very generous superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy. This means that the wealthiest one per cent of Australians, who already receive twice as much taxpayer support for their retirement income as the poorest 10 per cent, will continue to do so. Meanwhile the taxes paid by waiters, childcare workers, truck drivers and shop assistants will be subsidising the superannuation of the wealthy.


Labor has a very proud track record when it comes to superannuation. It came from those visionaries Keating, Hawke and Kelty. We will continue to fight for a fairer superannuation system and a stronger one. We on this side understand its value. To quote the shadow minister, the member for Whitlam, our universal superannuation, which is like a sovereign wealth fund but owned by the people, not the government, 'has $3 trillion in funds invested, and Australian workers have amassed the fourth-largest pool of pension savings in the world, equal to 140 per cent of GDP'. Superannuation has helped transform Australia from a country that borrowed from the rest of the world to one with substantial savings of its own. Make no mistake, if the opponents of universal super win, the consequence will be the destruction of jobs, the crippling of economic growth, and increasing taxes and a less secure future.


The Prime Minister's inability to subdue the wreckers in his own ranks puts us all at risk. The economic woes and challenges we faced before the pandemic crisis have not gone away; they've simply become worse and we've had to face a whole lot more. The challenge of funding pensions for an ageing population with a structurally weak budget is still alive; in fact, it's become greater. In a post-COVID environment, now more than ever, we will need to have a huge pool of money available to invest in jobs and growing the economy; to invest in innovation and development for industries like manufacturing, construction, infrastructure and biosciences; and to invest in innovation in health care, aged care and disability services.


If the government had a real plan for superannuation, they would not be tinkering around the edges. They would make it easier for trustees to invest members' contributions for the benefit of the country. We need a strong superannuation system, buttressed by stable and certain policy, with a mandate to invest for the long term in the national interest.