October 16, 2019

Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (12:59): I will just touch on Senator Abetz's contribution, and—shock, horror!—unions support union members running for parliament. That's why the Labor Party was formed. We've been doing that for 130 years because we want to further the interest of working Australians, and that is what we will continue to do. That is what we have seen in the case of Mr Shorten and the Australian Workers Union.

But what is of particular importance for Australia at the moment is that almost every day we hear some alarming economic news about the future of this country. Earlier this week we saw the Deloitte report, and today it has been reported that the IMF has slashed Australia's economic growth forecast. It is down to 1.7 per cent in 2019 and 2.3 per cent in 2020. This is a 0.4 per cent downgrade, which is twice the global downgrade, and it is four times as large as the downgrade for the eurozone and advanced economies. This would place Australia's growth behind that of Greece, Spain and the United States.

This is the news that we are being confronted with this morning, following the release of the IMF report overnight, and I think it's good to put this in the context of the rhetoric that we see from those opposite. We know they're on a victory lap. We know the hubris that we've seen since they won the election. But the reality for Australians on the ground is not matching up with that rhetoric. We see that continually through the economic news that Australians are being confronted with, and the government need to accept responsibility for this because this is their economy.

They've now been in power for six years, so Australians and, in my home state, Queenslanders have suffered from six years of this LNP government. This is their record since taking office. They've overseen the worst GDP growth in a decade. The latest board minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia noted that year-ended growth had slowed to 1.4 per cent, the lowest outcome in a decade, and that employment growth was forecast to slow over the period ahead. So it's bad and getting worse and, as I mentioned earlier, this is on the back of the recent Business Outlook by Deloitte Access Economics, which forecast growth well below the Morrison government's projections. It said that the pain in our economy has been homegrown—in other words, they are responsible for it—and we are unlikely to see wages accelerate or unemployment fall much in the coming year.

As I mentioned, this is on top of the bad economic news that we got this morning. This has been a week of disastrous economic news for the country. But the government have created these economic conditions as they have no economic policy. Since the election, the Reserve Bank has had to cut interest rates to 0.75 per cent, which is a quarter of what they were during the GFC. We are facing stagnant wages and declining living standards. Almost two million people are looking for work or for more work. There is record household debt.

These conditions, which the LNP has created, are hitting Queensland, and regional Queensland, harder than most. Since 2013, when Labor left office, unemployment has grown to 6.4 per cent in Queensland, compared to 5.3 per cent nationally. It's even worse in places like Wide Bay, where it is 7.3 per cent; Townsville, where it is 8.3 per cent; outback Queensland, where it is 12.1 per cent; Mackay, where it is 7.2 per cent; and Central Queensland, where it is 8.5 per cent. Young people in Queensland are facing record high unemployment, too, under the LNP government. They've nearly doubled the youth unemployment rate for Central Queensland, which is at 22.5 per cent. In outback Queensland it is 27.3 per cent. In Mackay it is 15.5 per cent. In Wide Bay it is 20 per cent. In Townsville it is 17 per cent. A Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland report found that Queenslanders are facing a regional jobs crisis. Not only are there high levels of unemployment, thanks to the LNP government; people are forced to wait up to 18 months for a job. If you live in Mount Isa and you lose your job, it would take an average of 18 months to get a new one. In Toowoomba it would take 67 weeks. In Wide Bay it is 26 weeks. In Mackay it is 23 weeks. In other parts of Queensland, by comparison, it is eight weeks.

Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, has urged the Morrison government to get infrastructure projects shovel ready in case they are needed for an emergency stimulus to pull Australia out of an economic downturn. In fact, he has suggested seven times since the election that infrastructure is a good form of stimulus. The IMF has joined with the RBA governor in calling for more fiscal stimulus and investment in infrastructure. It said, 'Monetary policy cannot be the only game in town and should be coupled with fiscal support where fiscal space is available.' That's a clear call there from the IMF.

Compare this to what is actually the responsibility of this government. In the last federal budget, an additional $2.6 billion was allocated to Queensland for infrastructure, the majority of which—$2.3 billion—won't be seen until 2023-24, so it is some five or six years off before this money will be spent. Less than 30 per cent of this government's so-called $100 billion 10-year infrastructure program is budgeted to be spent in the next four years. In six years of this government's dismal record on infrastructure, it is spending $5.1 billion less than promised. The government hasn't been able to name a single project that will be brought forward. Queensland was the only state government that responded with projects that could be brought forward. The Prime Minister today could have announced the fast-tracking of a range of desperately needed projects in regional Queensland, including Mackay Ring Road Stage 2, Cairns Southern Access Stage 5, Rockhampton Ring Road, the Cunningham Highway upgrade and the Beerburrum to Nambour Rail Upgrade. Those are all projects that are vitally needed and would assist in the economic development of the state.

Cross River Rail, a $5.4 billion project, has received zero dollars in federal funding. Back in 2012, the independent Infrastructure Australia declared that Cross River Rail was ready to proceed and placed it at the top of its national Infrastructure Priority List. The Linkfield Road upgrade out near my office in Strathpine won't receive a single extra dollar in funding in this term in parliament. Currently two lanes on Linkfield Road merge into one before drivers turn north onto Gympie Arterial Road. It is a serious choke point and notorious traffic accident black spot. On the existing budget timetable, no money will flow to this for seven years.

This comes down to the fact that the LNP don't have an economic plan. We know they don't have an energy policy and they don't have a wages policy. The reality is that this is hitting Australians and hitting Queenslanders hard. They like to talk a lot about quiet Australians, and I assure you that quiet Australians will not stay quiet for very long while these economic circumstances continue and while the government continue to operate without a plan that has their interests at heart. So I'd say to this government: have a think about those young people suffering in Queensland, particularly in regional Queensland, where there is high youth unemployment. There is a long wait for those people to be able to get into the workforce. These people deserve a federal government that is doing its bit to ensure that they get the opportunity to get ahead. Sitting back and acting arrogantly, continuing on with your victory lap post the election, is not going to do anything to assist these people. That is something that is desperately needed across Australia but particularly in regional Queensland.