SPEECH – While the Government is looking inward and presiding over chaos, the Northern Territory has a bright future, but it still needs a hand

CANBERRA – 24 March 2021

We’re here debating appropriations bills, which are the very lifeblood of Government.

It’s important that we pass these bills so the Government has money to keep our economy ticking over during a very difficult time.

But what has this Government been doing? It’s been presiding over a series of scandals and shambles.

One of my constituents, Pamela Trotman, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister recently. I’m not sure if he’s read it.

But she’s urging him to reconsider his decision not to hold an inquiry into the events of 1988 in which it was alleged that Christian Porter raped a teenage colleague.

She writes:

“Christian Porter and you have both argued on the importance of upholding the rule of law as a key foundation of a democratic society.

“However, there are other key principles of law which you and Christian Porter appear to have overlooked, and in doing so you have both compromised the integrity of the role of Attorney General.”

She says Minister Porter had the opportunity to declare his innocence, but the woman making the allegations did not.

Ms Trotman writes to the Prime Minister:

“What is particularly galling about your actions is your apparent insincerity with respect to ensuring survivor’s voices are heard. 

“That insincerity – or was it duplicity? – is evidenced in the fact that you made those assertions in support of Christian Porter just five weeks after you stood beside Grace Tame while she delivered her impassioned speech in response to being awarded Australian of the Year. 

“Which ‘persona’ of you as Prime Minister do we believe?”

Ms Trotman writes to the Prime Minister:

“We need leaders, men, and women, who despite the challenges and personal costs, will fight to uphold and protect the very fabric of our civil society.

“Neither he nor you have demonstrated this level of leadership, and in so doing have tarnished the integrity of this pivotal role in sustaining Australia as a civil society.”

She closes by saying:

“Your decision not to hold an inquiry is to silence not only the voice of Christian Porter’s accuser but all the other rape victims who struggle to live healthy and rich lives while their perpetrators go unchallenged. 

“That, Sir, is not my idea of a how a civil society should work.”

Speaker, I’m inclined to agree with Ms Trotman. We should not be silencing the voices of victims. We should be amplifying them.

And this is true of the victims of sexual assault as well as those who have served our nation.

And that is why I have been so vocal in my calls for a Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence Force suicides.

We have managed to drag the Government to the side of overwhelming public opinion. And I acknowledge the support we have had from all sides on this issue.

Although I do note that the Prime Minister still hasn’t been able to bring himself to say that there will definitely be a royal commission – only that he won’t oppose moves towards establishing one.

Indeed, yesterday in question time the Prime Minister couldn’t’ say there would be a royal commission.

But on behalf of veterans and families today I say: Prime Minister, why are you delaying confirming that there will be a royal commission into defence and veteran suicides? Why won’t you establish that to the nation?

I hope you do it today, you’ve got the opportunity to do it before we go on our break from sittings.

Deputy Speaker, jobs.

We know that work is a tremendous lifeline for people. But over the last year work has been incredibly uncertain for many Australians, who are now facing even more uncertainty.

There are only four days left until this lifeline to businesses, especially small businesses, is cut off. And it’s going to be disastrous.

Our workers have sacrificed so much during this pandemic, and they’ve paid a very high price.

One million people are unemployed and 1.1 million are underemployed, looking for more work or more hours.

3.3 million people have raided their superannuation account with many thousands of young people reducing their balances to zero.

This will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars upon their retirement.

What Australian workers and businesses need right now is a Government that will listen to them, hear their fears and worries during this highly unusual period, and extend a helping hand.

That’s why Labor first proposed a wage subsidy system – we understood that this sort of help would be necessary for a time.

No one thinks this payment should go on forever, but while the vaccines are rolling out, as we begin looking to reopening our borders, so many Australian businesses still need help.

Economists are estimating that when the tap gets turned off on Sunday, anywhere from, 100,000 to a quarter of a million Australians will immediately lose their jobs, because JobKeeper has been the only thing keeping them afloat.

So whilst this Prime Minister fights for the jobs of his colleagues with serious allegations against them, we are facing a situation in for days when so many Australians around this nation through no fault of their own will join the unemployment queues.

That’s mind-boggling.

And the temporarily raised rate of JobSeeker has been cut too, so they won’t get much support there.

A miserly boost those opposite announced of $3.57 per day isn’t going to help keep the lights on at home, or food on the table or rent paid.

More than 4,000 Territorians were still on JobKeeper at the end of January, and three quarters of them live in Darwin in my electorate.

So I speak for them when I say it is too early, it is premature to be pulling this support away.

Particularly for people connected with the tourism industry, because as we know the borders remain closed.

At its peak last year, more than five times that number – 22,000 Territory workers – were being supported by JobKeeper. That’s almost one in 10 people in the NT.

In my electorate of Solomon, in Darwin and Palmerston, George and Chris Cleanthous run a business servicing cruise ships.

They normally service 50 to 70 ships a year. They’ve been doing that for 30 years, and it was very profitable for them – until COVID-19 hit and the ships stopped coming.

George and Chris have already had to lose two-thirds of their staff, dropping from 30 employees to 12. Those 12 people are all on JobKeeper and all look to be out of a job from Monday when JobKeeper goes.

Overseas tourism is still a long way from returning to Australia, we all understand that. But some consideration needs to be given to businesses like this one, who are heavily dependent on tourism.

Domestic tourism isn’t going to be able to fill the gap, and anyway it’s still a long way off rebounding.

The $1.2 billion tourism package that the Government announced two weeks ago initially didn’t include the Top End at all, despite our heavy reliance on tourism.

How could Darwin be overlooked when Broome was included, when Cairns was included? We have many world-class tourism opportunities, such as Kakadu – how could they be ignored?

It was only added to the list of eligible locations after the fact, when we raised our concerns about it. And I acknowledge those from all sides who raised their concerns.

That hardly sends an encouraging message to tourism businesses in the Top End.

So what is the Government actually offering to the thousands and thousands of tourism and hospitality businesses in the Territory and around the country who are hanging on by a thread?

Some of those businesses are going to go to the wall. My constituent Chris Cleanthous is now seriously considering selling his house just to stay afloat.

And yet those opposite refused to even consider making companies who’ve made massive profits pay back their JobKeeper that they didn’t need.

In a targeted way, those funds could have kept some of these small businesses afloat.

Tourism Top End ran a survey recently which found that a third of respondents would have to sack staff when JobKeeper ends. At least five per cent said they would be forced to shut down entirely.

These are great Australian businesses employing Australian workers. This is not a situation of their own making. They all want to keep working. None of them wants to end up on the dole.

Instead of a plan to get Australians back into work, Scott Morrison is leaving people behind to do it alone.

David Malone is CEO of Master Builders NT, and today in the NT News he noted that we’re entering what he calls “The Great Unwinding”, as those billions are pulled back, and the economy returns to being powered by citizens, not stimulus.

One of the biggest impacts, he says, is the end of the Federal Government’s HomeBuilder incentive, and the Northern Territory Government’s BuildBonus scheme.

These schemes have helped shore up private investment.

David is calling for the creation of a Major Projects Coordinator and an Infrastructure Commissioner to take charge of investment as stimulus payments ebb.

There is, of course, light on the horizon.

The NT Government has done a great job of considering the longer term future, and have been busy shoring up many projects that will give us a stable base for recovery.

Those projects include major investments in renewable energy.

There is the Sun Cable project, which will result in up to $8 billion being invested in the Territory, which will be home to the largest solar farm and renewable energy system in the world.

It’ll form part of the $22 billion Australia-ASEAN Power Link.

1,500 jobs will be created during the construction phase from October 2023, with 350 ongoing jobs once operations get going.

It’ll create both job security and energy security, both of which are absolutely essential in the NT, and around our country.

It will be good for the environment AND good for the economy.

It means that in six years from now, this power link will provide a huge amount of renewable energy for the NT, as well as powering a fifth of Singapore.

It’ll export $1 billion per year in solar electricity.

The NT will be a renewable energy powerhouse, and will be set to become a green energy manufacturing hub.

It could, in fact, be a key cog in a Federal renewable energy precinct network, which could support a cluster of manufacturers powered by 100 per cent renewable energy.

It could help Australia get on the front foot and capitalise on a growing global demand for carbon-zero products.

It could position us as a world leader in zero-carbon sustainable manufacturing.

A proposal from the World Wildlife Foundation suggests that 3,000 current regional manufacturing jobs in Darwin could double under such a program. And that’s a big deal for the northern capital of Australia.

Speaker, there’s a bright future ahead of us, especially for the Northern Territory. But many of these fantastic initiatives are still a few years away.

And what we need is support to help our local businesses hold on during this very tough time, so that they still exist when the time comes to capitalise on the opportunities ahead.

This is not the time to cut JobKeeper. The Government must reconsider.

If it escapes the Government’s attention, let me make it very clear – like in other regional areas of Australia, in my electorate in Darwin and Palmerston, there are many businesses – whether they be in the travel booking industry, or connected to international tourism, including First Nations businesses – that still require this assistance.

They still need a hand to get through the vaccine rollout, which those opposite are responsible for.

If your vaccine rollout is a lot slower than anticipated, keep this assistance going, particularly to those businesses in the tourism industry that are going to struggle, close. Many of them will simply cease to exist.

And it behoves those opposite to take the concerns of these small businesses and their workers in the NT seriously.

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ENDS