It is a privilege to respond to the Governor-General’s address and to the extensive agenda of the Morrison coalition government. As the Governor-General referenced in his address, at the 2019 election more than 15 million Australians had their say about what they want from their government and their parliament over the next three years. Hardworking Australians made a simple and humble demand that their aspirations for their future be respected and supported by those they elected. That’s why hardworking Australians voted for a government that understands them and understands that they are focused on raising their families, running their businesses, working hard, volunteering and caring for their family and friends. That’s exactly what the Morrison government promised, and that is exactly what the Morrison government is delivering.
We are firmly committed to a platform to keep the economy strong and to pursue policies that ensure Australians keep more of the money they work so hard to earn, and to give them more freedom and opportunity to make their own choices about their priorities in life. We saw this come to fruition in the very first week of the 46th Parliament. Tax relief for more than 10 million working Australians was delivered. Around $1,000 of their own money has gone straight back into the pockets of these hardworking Australians as they complete this last financial year’s tax return. Doing this, putting this commitment into legislation as the first order of business of the 46th Parliament, clearly demonstrates that, as a government, we meant exactly what we said during the election campaign, that Australians who work hard should be rewarded by their government through the lowest possible taxes.
In contrast, we have a Labor opposition that took to the election a high-taxing, high-spending agenda which was resoundingly rejected by the Australian people. Surprisingly, when it came time to debate our tax relief legislation, they still hadn’t learnt their lesson and tried their best to prevent the full tax relief plan from passing the parliament. As we stand here today we are still no clearer on whether Labor will retain that high-taxing agenda, as many in their ranks want to do, or listen to the election outcome and the people of Australia.
It is vitally important that the government continues to have a sound fiscal policy that supports a strong economy. That starts with fostering a healthy budget bottom line. I believe the Treasurer has done a magnificent job to put the budget back in the black while also delivering sensible and affordable tax relief to Australians. This responsible fiscal management will support our economy to continue to grow and prosper over the coming decades.
In my own state of Tasmania, the Morrison government is delivering a total investment in infrastructure of over $2.7 billion, including an additional $313 million in transport infrastructure to bust congestion, improve safety and unlock greater productivity through our businesses and exporters. A more efficient transport network equates to lower costs for Tasmanian businesses in getting their product to market, which means more opportunities for businesses to grow and to employ more people.
There is no doubt that job creation is firmly at the centre of the Morrison government’s agenda. I welcome the investment by the government in supporting Tasmania’s growth industries. As I outlined in my first speech in this place, ensuring there are more opportunities in our state for young Tasmanians, particularly employment opportunities, is front of mind for me as a new senator. That’s why I’m so pleased that this government is investing heavily across a range of industries in Tasmania, where there are proven opportunities for growth and job creation. For example, we’re investing $100 million for the next tranche of irrigation schemes across our state. That will lead to great new opportunities and enhanced water security for Tasmanian farmers. The benefits of previous investments in irrigation schemes around Tasmania by the federal coalition government and the state Liberal government are very clear. This future investment is eminently sensible and timely in its commitment to ensuring our state can continue to increase our exports of premium agricultural products to the nation and the world. It’s not always well understood on mainland Australia that Tasmania is susceptible to drought. Indeed, many of the farmers on the east coast and south-east have done it very tough in recent years because of extremely dry conditions. That’s why it has been great to see this government establish the Future Drought Fund, with $100 million available each year to invest in drought preparedness and recovery programs. The fund is a very welcome initiative for rural communities all over Australia. We know how tough it is in so many parts of the country at the moment, and we must as a nation do everything we can to support our farmers, because we know that this won’t be our last drought experience.
Further evidence of our government’s jobs creation agenda can be seen through our support of the Marinus Link second interconnector as part of Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation pumped hydro plans. This exciting new project is very welcome, particularly in the north and north-west of our state, where these projects will create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly. Furthermore, Battery of the Nation and its associated infrastructure will play an integral role in ensuring Australians have access to reliable and renewable energy into the future. We are also supporting the Tasmanian Defence Innovation and Design Precinct at the Australian Maritime College and the blue economy research centre, and investing in tourist infrastructure upgrades at Freycinet National Park and Cradle Mountain. In the south of the state, the government is cementing Tasmania as Australia’s Antarctic gateway with $2.8 billion of investment. These policies are just some of a long list of job-creating and supporting investments by this government in Tasmania and across the whole country. They are a stark contrast to the platform that Labor put forward at the election and continue desperately to cling to.
As the Governor-General’s address noted, when you have a strong economy and good budget management you can invest more in the services that Australians need. Indeed, the Morrison government is investing an extra $31 billion in public hospitals over the next five years, providing funding for more emergency department visits, outpatient services, needed scans and surgeries, and treatments of life-threatening illnesses and diseases. We’re investing $308 million into reducing the cost of life-changing medicines for Australians, especially those who have chronic conditions that require multiple medications. We’re putting almost $740 million into youth mental health and suicide prevention strategies. This is an incredibly important initiative, particularly for regional and rural Australia, where suicide is such a big issue and something that we as a community must do more to address. There is always more to do in the health space, and I know that this government will continue to work with the states to ensure Australians have access to the best possible health services.
In my maiden speech I referenced the importance of education and training to Tasmania, and I’m very pleased with the commitment the government has made to boost educational outcomes and, in particular, skills training to ensure that our young people are job ready. Over the next decade, the government will increase funding for all primary and secondary schools across all sectors by an average of 62 per cent per student. This $310 billion investment is a commitment to deliver the world-class education system that will equip Australia for the decades ahead. We also have $585 million invested in a commitment to training to improve skills, including creating 80,000 new apprenticeships and establishing 10 new industry training hubs in key locations of high youth unemployment in regional Australia. Burnie, in north-west Australia, was one of 10 locations of elevated youth unemployment across Australia that has been selected to host an industry training hub, which will strengthen partnerships between local schools, employers and industries, and ensure that vocational education programs are tailored to meet the local workforce needs and skills demands. I certainly applaud this important initiative being rolled out in my own home state. Under this education program, young people aged between 15 and 24 in training hub areas will be able to apply for a scholarship to undertake an eligible VET approved program of study. Across the nation, 400 scholarships valued at up to $17,500 each will be made available, from certificate III to advanced diploma level.
All of these investments which I’ve outlined here today are made possible by strong economic management and having the budget back on track. I’d like to conclude by strongly supporting the sentiments at the conclusion of the Governor-General’s address, in which he said:
Democracy is a robust undertaking, and disagreement is a fundamental part of that contest of ideas.
As the Prime Minister has often noted, the challenge of modern democracies is not to disagree less but to disagree better. I cannot agree more with these sentiments. We will always have our disagreements and our debates in this place, whether it’s here between elected members or in the community between citizens. But in an age where disagreements often seem to be becoming more heated, and arguments more vitriolic and even abusive, it is more important than ever to remember that in our great country, in Australia, we all have a right to voice our opinion and every other person in our country has the right to respond in a responsible and dignified manner. This debate should only be encouraged because it is by this contest of ideas that, I believe, good policy outcomes are reached. To that end, freedom of speech is certainly an essential part of what makes our country so great, and we in this place and across this country must never lose sight of that.