Address-in-Reply Speech: Thank you to the people of Mitchell for supporting me again to be their representative

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:40): It's a privilege to rise in this chamber again and to be here in this place. I thank the people of Mitchell and the communities of north-west Sydney that I represent in the suburbs of my electorate—hard-working families and businesses—aspirational area that it is, for supporting me again to be their representative here. I commit to them again, in this term of parliament, to fight very hard to get a government that does stand for their values, a government that understands what its essential core business is, what governments should be doing for them, which is providing a safe and free society and a place where people can earn a living, do well for themselves and their families and get ahead—the kind of aspiration that all Australians seek and the opportunities that should be afforded to them as Australians.

Obviously today we face a society where government has been asked to do more and more of the work, of the tasks, that in the past it may not have been asked to do. Certainly during the pandemic, as part of the then Morrison government, the government was asked to do an extraordinary amount of things that it may not ordinarily have been asked to do. There's no doubt that, after that period of great disruption—upheaval of society, of our economy, of governments, of international trade, of the entire world through a one-in-100-year pandemic—things have been disrupted and people have lent on the government more.

What the future is about is what philosophy will continue to dominate from a government point of view, whether the government will continue to be asked to do the things that people can do for themselves, and business and society can do for themselves, or whether we'll go back to more normal operations wherein we rely on the productivity, the intelligence, the capacity and the capability of our individual citizens, of our communities, of the social and voluntary structures that make up our society. I know, as a member of the Liberal Party, a great party that represents those traditions, we'll be advocating, in the long term, for those values to return and to make sure that government focuses on the things that it should be doing and no more, and working to make our society safer, freer and fairer for all Australians.

When you examine the record of the previous government over the whole 10 years, that was certainly what we were doing. A pandemic of course changed the narrative for Australian history, changed the course of Australian history in ways that will be felt for a long time. It was a fact that the government had delivered a balanced budget result for the first time in a long time, getting under control the mismanagement of Labor in previous governments, and had forecasted and projected surplus budgets for the forward years. Returning the budget to surplus; paying down the debt; getting on with what a good Liberal-National government would be doing. It isn't an understatement to say that the greatest upheaval in 100 years changed the course of Australian government history and our society's course, meaning that those surpluses would no longer be delivered.

The budget had to be used to buttress society. The electorate made its judgement on that at the election; but I do note that they judged no major political party as worthy of more support than at the 2019 election, including the Australian Labor Party, which lost the primary vote, at a lower rate, but had less votes than it did at the 2019 election. The same with the Liberal Party; the same with other parties. People were upset at the outcome of a very difficult period, and understandably nothing was perfect from the state government level or the federal government level and there is no manual. Some people say you can have a manual for this, but I think a manual written in 1920, in the middle of the Spanish flu, wouldn't really help a government in 2019 with what it had to do given the developments and advancements in hospitals, in communications, in the internet—all of the things that we know have advanced in 100 years. I'm sure, if there is another pandemic in 100 years, a manual written now may not be of great assistance to those people in the future attempting to tackle something so severe.

The government did have its faults. It certainly had to govern through one of the most difficult periods of its time. I think it will be well regarded by Australians, in the future, about its success in managing our society through the pandemic. We pay tribute to the work of all the departments here in Canberra. I worked closely in several portfolios with those public servants. I've thanked them before but I thank them again for their dedicated service. Government was required to do more. It was a national emergency—it was an international emergency, a national emergency, a health emergency—and of course government got asked to do more. It was asked do things it had never done before and it did them reasonably well, considering the pressures.

The future is different. When you think about what the election was fought on—the economy—cost of living was already publicly known as the No. 1 issue. Since the last election, the cost of living has become an even greater pressure on the average household budget, on families of every income level, on people who have lesser assets and money and on people who have more. The strain has been felt by the entire community. What's important is that a government understands—in every fibre of its being, when it's going to those cabinet rooms, making decisions, bringing legislation before the parliament—that cost of living is about the general prosperity of every single Australian.

I'm not persuaded that the Albanese government really does understand this in every fibre of its being so far. It's approach to government spending, its approach to policy-making, would indicate that it feels that now is the time to launch into large amounts of government spending, in various different ways, that we simply can't afford. The approach also says that we should be doing more and more as a government, not focusing on the essential tasks of government that really need improvement and aren't being done well.

Listen to the rhetoric of this government's health minister. He says the health system has been destroyed by a decade of inaction. That's high rhetoric, but he's clearly ignorant of the fact that the pandemic strained our health and aged-care systems in ways they'd never been tested before. Even with record funding from the previous coalition government they are under strain. Health is a very important sector. It does require government focus.

The government, in its agenda, is revealing it lacks a fundamental understanding of how the economy functions, what the role of government is and what government should be doing about the inflationary crisis and the cost-of-living crisis we are facing. It's certainly—coming from a conservative side of politics—important that the government gets its house in order, its books in order, its spending in order. A lot of the crisis has been created by successive waves of inflationary pressure. That's been from the simple inflating of the money supply, through quantitative easing over many decades, to more government spending at record levels that we've seen society spend before and, whatever society you point to, government borrowing at record levels. This is part of the reason we're facing an inflationary crisis. An important part is for government to get its house in order, to tackle this.

Policies add to this problem and continue to add to it through different facets, and the way our economy is structured certainly won't help. It was revealing that one of the first acts of the Albanese government was in industrial relations. They've returned to a model of industrial relations which says that the government—essentially, they're trying to advocate; the Prime Minister says this all the time, that the government secured a wage increase for someone—sets people's wages, that the government has a role in setting people's wages. This is fundamentally not the system.

For the Australian Labor Party to communicate regularly to the public that it's the government that sets wages, or it's a function of the government to set wages, is fundamentally incorrect. It's not even our current system under the Fair Work system or the operation of it. They went further than just suggesting that they were going to be increasing wages in various sectors and they had secured those wages, which were properly, under our system, judgements for the Fair Work Commission. They also decided that now—at the single most difficult inflationary and cost-of-living crisis period—was the time to restrict our industrial relations systems and return to pattern bargaining.

It's a phrase that many Australians will be unfamiliar with. Pattern bargaining is where sectors that are totally unrelated to other sectors decide to go on strike or argue for better pay and conditions, and other sectors have to wear the impact, the pain and the cost, of the pattern bargaining. This is an archaic feature of our industrial relations system that goes back to an era that doesn't exist anymore.

The Labor government has proposed, as one of its first acts, to return to pattern bargaining. It will include family owned businesses—millions of family, small and medium enterprises—in a system of pattern bargaining that has nothing to do with their sector of productivity, their goods and services to the economy. To say that you would somehow be affected by wage claims in other sectors, in other businesses and other companies is a retrograde step. I have no hesitation in saying that it was a huge surprise to the productive economy that the Labor Party immediately moved to pull the handbrake on industrial relations, strangle the flexibility of small and medium enterprises and tie them to the archaic system from 30 or 40 years ago of pattern bargaining. It will represent a great cost imposition on business. There's no doubt that by constraining industrial relations at this time, they remove flexibility for business right at the time when they need more flexibility in their ability to employ and their ability to manage their businesses. This is exactly the wrong time for this agenda, and it will have super-high costs. Those costs will add to our inflationary crisis.

We have supply and labour shortages at the moment, and, ultimately—no doubt—if we don't do things to encourage and stimulate job creation and productivity in our economy, and grow the pie instead of just focusing on the redistribution of it, we will suffer. It's very much a Liberal-National premise that we will take policies and bring forward policies that will grow productivity and grow our economy, not just focus on this Labor obsession with endlessly redistributing what other people create. We must focus on that growth of our economy and the business environment so that people can grow and create jobs.

I think that for the Labor Party to bring forward an industrial relations agenda that the public didn't agree to was sneaky; it was retrograde. I think any fair-minded observer of a takeback to our industrial relations system to 30 or 40 years ago will observe that that is a very ideological obsession in the middle of a very difficult pragmatic crisis for our economy, and it doesn't bode well.

Of course, there are other things that the government is doing that we object to. Certainly, straightaway, I think people can see the agenda in relation to our tax system and the way government spends money. Off-budget spending can be clever in an accounting sense, but government spending is government spending. It will have an impact on our borrowing costs, it will have an impact on our interest bill and it will have an impact on the amount and volume of money that is being spent by the government. We'll have more to say about those funds that are being set up.

But I think the seminal issue coming up for the government in this budget will be the stage 3 tax cuts, and these are much maligned in the commentary that is going around at the moment. The trick is in the name, and I'd say to all colleagues that stage 3 implies that stage 1 and stage 2 of our tax reform have already gone through and been implemented, and that this is a totality of a fair package. Stage 3 is for the broad middle class and another improvement to our tax system. It removes the inflationary and hard-hitting notion of bracket creep, which was the most inflationary pressure before inflation started taking off. Bracket creep is something that has to be avoided; it adds extreme pressure on households. The stage 3 changes have been legislated and, hopefully, the government is still committing to them, or potentially aspiring to them—we're not quite certain; I haven't checked what day it is. But hopefully it is dedicated to keeping its election promise to the Australian people. These changes are important too.

People are focused on saying, 'This will be a cost to the budget,' but the cost to the budget is actually a return to the budgets of families and individuals in their income tax, and to their family and business structures. Again, the central premise between us on this question of stage 3 tax cuts is: do people and businesses know better how to spend their money and in more productive ways than the government, or does the government know? Of course, the Greens will say: 'Well, we know. We, the Greens, know better than the government about how to spend every dollar—better than every other person in the country.' That is simply an argument I reject. The Labor Party is also dedicated to the view that they know better what the priorities are and how better to spend that money.

We take the view that that money in the economy will generate much more productivity and generate the ability for people to get ahead, to manage their own budget and expenditure and to make choices about their lifestyle—and choices are very important in the economy. So we remain committed to the stage 3 tax cuts because they are the third part of a very comprehensive reform plan that lowers taxes in Australia and lowers the complexity of bracket creep. It reduces reliance, and sets up Australia for less reliance, on income tax, which, we all agree—even Labor, I think—is an over-relied-on tax in Australia. This is the solution. It was legislated and agreed to by the Labor Party, and I say to them that they must deliver on this commitment that they made at the last election. I call on them to deliver that for the broad middle class of Australia and the future of Australia, because less reliance on income tax and less income tax taken off people and their incomes is going to be better for society and better for every household.

These are the critical questions that face us in the future, and, still, there are other things I'd point to in Western Sydney, where the government achieved well above and beyond the expectations of people in Western Sydney. People knew that, and you could see that in some of the results of the election. The commitment of the government, for the first time, to the second Sydney airport, the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport—an international airport which will operate in Western Sydney—was, and still is, opposed by Labor MPs in this chamber: the member for Chifley, notably; the member for Macquarie, who was just here; and the member for Macarthur. This is a fantastic future airport for Sydney that's currently being constructed, with the roads, rail, metro and everything going to it, and which will have tens of thousands of jobs attached to it. There is a huge commercial precinct attached to it and a manufacturing precinct—advanced manufacturing, defence manufacturing. They're all of the things you would do in setting up a modern airport to provide jobs, apprenticeships and long-term, sustainable employment for people and young people in Western Sydney.

So for members from Western Sydney to (1) oppose the airport and (2) continually oppose the airport, especially coming from a low-socioeconomic-demographic electorate—I've said to the member for Chifley, 'How do you look one of the lowest and most disadvantaged electorates in the country in the eye and say, "I oppose a jobs-generating and great proposal, like the second Sydney airport"?' It's nowhere near his electorate, I must say: it's in the south-west of Sydney, and it will generate opportunities and jobs for his community for decades. But he still opposes that airport. I give the Prime Minister the credibility his due: he has always supported the second Sydney airport, and he has integrity in his position on this. But his own members still continue to say to Western Sydney: 'We don't need an airport that's currently being built and that generates the jobs that we will need.'

The member for Chifley is the minister for industry; he lectures to us every day about manufacturing, and yet we have a huge manufacturing and advanced manufacturing precinct attached to this project. Where does he think the manufacturing that he's talking about is going to go? It's a very sad not-in-my-backyard approach from the minister for industry, who's lecturing us on why we need more industry. The second Sydney airport will provide the sites for so much opportunity and advancement for industry in advanced manufacturing that he should be recanting his previous position, and his current position, of opposing this airport, and he should be embracing the opportunity that this represents. It's another achievement by a coalition government that will set up Sydney, our city and, of course, one of the largest economies in Australia—New South Wales—for a long time to come.

I also want to pay tribute to the work that has been done over many years by the New South Wales coalition government. The member for Greenway made some observations here about the New South Wales government, but she neglected to mention that on the weekend the coalition agreed to fund the business case for the missing link that will go from my electorate, through her electorate and join Rouse Hill with St Marys on the Metro that will go to Sydney's second airport—which her colleagues oppose. This is a fantastic announcement, because that Metro line being finished and combined with the other Metro components will complete Sydney, make Sydney work again and provide the infrastructure we need to make our city work properly. The fact that not a word of it escaped her mouth is disappointing. She would understand how great this is.

I note that Chris Minns and the Labor Party are not yet committing to finishing the Metro network in Sydney that would connect the second Sydney airport to all the rest of Sydney. I can't fathom why an opposition wouldn't simply agree to the coalition government's forward-looking proposal on infrastructure, which is going to get people to and from the airport. It's an obvious and simple thing to do. Given it runs through the member for Greenway's electorate and that I respect her views, I'd welcome her to come forward and join me in welcoming that announcement from the coalition government. It's time for us to put partisanship aside and get this missing link done.

I also want to thank everyone who supported me at the last election. I had great support from very professional officers, who I've thanked before; from people who've worked for me over many years in either a ministerial capacity or in my electorate office, and also from all of those community groups who worked so hard to get us through the pandemic.

As a minister, one of the greatest times that I had in the middle of the pandemic was visiting the workers at ResMed, in my electorate—a great Australian start-up, now a global multinational, that manufactures medical devices. It's a great global company now, but still headquartered in Australia. Even through the costs and the difficulties, they still remain dedicated to Australia. Early on in the pandemic, these workers worked shifts throughout weeks and months to produce ventilators and to help Australia be set up. It was a real privilege to meet the workforce there, to engage with them and to see the enthusiasm and the great Aussie spirit that they had brought to this extremely difficult set of work arrangements. They put aside their personal benefit, and they worked in shifts around the clock for weeks and months. It was a real privilege to take former minister Hunt there and spend a day with the workers. I thank them, and I thank everyone who contributed so much to so many during such a difficult time.