Federal Election

In Parliament, Matters of Interest, Speeches

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:42): With just three days to go before we decide who will govern the country for the next three years, I want to take just over three minutes to ponder the promise of Australia, and ponder it I do because, to be honest, I have no idea what is meant by ‘the promise of Australia’. This is from the man who created the phrase, ‘Where the bloody hell are ya?’, it certainly makes one scratch one’s head and say, ‘Where the bloody hell are we going as a nation?’ 

As a nation, when we look to our leadership in this federal election, it is no surprise that it is in fact Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who tops the pops when it comes to popularity. This is little wonder when over there, across the ditch, New Zealand is about to produce their very first and the world’s first wellbeing budget. In this New Zealand wellbeing budget child poverty, domestic violence and mental health will be priorities. 

The finance minister— 

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins interjecting: 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: —was no doubt listened to in silence when he gave his speech on the budget, but we are not afforded the same consideration here. The New Zealand economy has been named a rock star economy by Grant Robertson, with no New Zealanders to be left behind. Yet there, of course, they are facing the same predicament that we are. They have home ownership at a 60-year low, the suicide rate climbing, homelessness and food grants on the rise, but their response is not to waffle on about a promise of Australia that nobody can define but, indeed, to tackle poverty. 

The most pressing area of this federal election, other than climate change, should be the tackling of poverty and inequality, yet we know that the silver bullet in that is a raise to Newstart. The most obvious, immediate and effective policy response would be to raise the level of unemployment payments. That is something that has very broad support. It has been recommended by cross-party parliamentary inquiries, the Henry taxation review, which recommended at least $50 a week, and the Business Council of Australia. Even our former prime minister, John Howard, has argued that the 25-year freeze on the rate of Newstart in real terms has probably gone on too long. Frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos recently expressed his personal view that it should be higher. 

The Labor Party has yet to come to the party on tackling poverty. While they have promised a root-and-branch review within their first 18 months, that is not good enough. So should they be fortunate enough to cross the line this Saturday, the Greens will certainly hold them to account on what we believe the promise of Australia would be, that is, that promise that Bob Hawke once made that no child need live in poverty. 

The voters of Australia, however, have not had a great deal of leadership on this. They have been convinced that there is no cause for compassion, with the blaming of those who are in poverty for their predicament, with talk of neutral obligation, with increasingly onerous requirements placed on those living not just under the poverty line but so far entrenched in poverty that they cannot even see the poverty line. 

We need a real fair go, not this so-called fair go for those who have a go. It is hard to have a go when you cannot even afford to take up the opportunities that are out there. I note that Prime Minister Morrison, who grew up not far from where I did in the shire, was offered a scholarship at Sydney Boys High. I was offered a scholarship at Sydney Girls High. My mother has reminded me, in these past few weeks while she has been visiting, that in fact the $800 fee that went along with that scholarship was too much for her to afford as a single mother. 

So while Prime Minister Morrison may boast about being the man who gives a fair go and for being able to support those who have a go, he was given a go and he could afford to have that go and attend Sydney Boys High. Many people in this country are not in that same place and it is to the detriment of our politics. We are poorer for it in our nation when we continue these punitive punishments of those we should be supporting.