HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - BILLS: APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 3) 2019-2020, APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 4) 2019-2020 SECOND READING - 26 FEB 2020

26 February 2022

 Unlike some, Labor will always support appropriation bills moved by the government of the day. On behalf of the member for Rankin and shadow Treasurer, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:

(1) after six years in office the economy is floundering on the Government's watch;

(2) Australians are struggling with stagnant wages, with wage growth stalling further;

(3) net debt has more than doubled under this Government;

(4) the Government does not have a plan to boost wages or growth in the economy; and

(5) it is because of the Government's failures that Australia meets the challenges and uncertainties of the bushfires and coronavirus from a position of weakness, not strength".

I also support those amendments.

Today I would like to pay tribute to my friend Ben Wyatt, the Treasurer in the McGowan Labor government of Western Australia, who yesterday announced in Perth that he will leave politics at the state election in March next year. Ben wants to spend more time with his wife and his children, while they are still young, and we all in this place wholeheartedly commend him for that. This is a big loss for politics in my home state of WA. It's also a big loss for the Indigenous people of Western Australia. As well as being Treasurer, of course, Mr Wyatt is WA's Aboriginal Affairs Minister, and he is cousin to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Ken Wyatt, the member for Hasluck.

By any measure, Ben Wyatt has been one of the most successful state treasurers in Western Australia's history. When he came to the job in March 2017, he inherited a set of books that can only be described as disastrous. WA had lost its AAA credit rating, state debt was heading towards $40 billion, and massive budget deficits were forecast for years ahead. The resources construction boom had come to an end in WA, which of course affected the state's finances. But that wasn't the main reason for the mess inherited by Ben Wyatt and the McGowan government. The main reason was the lavish overspending and poor financial management by the former Barnett government. Ben set out to prove yet again that Labor governments are better financial managers than the Liberals: he has succeeded, and it will always be one of his principal legacies as treasurer of our great state. The Western Australian economy has returned to growth and the government's finances have been restored. The budget is in surplus, and the McGowan government is the only state government in Australia that is reducing debt.

Mr Wyatt's spending restraint was not always popular in the community, or even with some of his colleagues at times, but the results speak for themselves. Ben and I studied together in the law school at the University of Western Australia, way back in the nineties—it's possible we shared a shandy or two during that time. As anyone that knows Ben will be able to confirm, he is great company and a good, honest man and we are lucky to have had him serve in the parliament and, particularly, as the Treasurer of Western Australia. Clearly, Ben will continue to contribute to the community as he moves out of politics.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Ben's family for allowing him to play such a pivotal role over the past 16 years in the success of our state of Western Australia. It is entirely a good thing that Ben will now spend more time with you, the whole Wyatt family, and I really wish him the best. Obviously we will miss him in political discussions, but I have no doubt that he will continue to contribute and give us a call when he thinks we can do things a bit differently. Best of luck, Ben. I really wish you all the best.

This summer has seen the best and worst of Australia. Catastrophic fires have devastated this country. We've lost precious wildlife and far too many homes, and, of course, 33 people have died, which has devastated their families and friends and entire communities. In January, the Labor shadow cabinet met in Batemans Bay and heard from Warren Sharpe, the local emergency management officer and economic development manager from the Eurobodalla council. He spoke of how he and his team coordinated the response to those terrible fires that went through the community. I thank Warren, his team and all his supporters, who gave their all to defend that community and that region. Now they turn to rebuilding it. It is a big task and I wish them the very best.

Many Australians are rightly angry and concerned that the government was asleep at the wheel leading up to and during summer's bushfire disaster. As we know, the Prime Minister refused to meet with experienced firefighters and fire chiefs, who had warned some time ago that such a disastrous bushfire was on its way. What I've seen on the ground in fire affected communities has been, frankly, devastating. But the amazing and resilient people I've met across the country working on the recovery and rehabilitation of this great place have given me hope, and it should give us all hope. I'd really like to thank the people of Batemans Bay for their wonderful hospitality, particularly David at The Venetian cafe and coffee roasters, who is also part of the Empty Esky campaign. I'd also like to thank those at The Sandbar restaurant, a fusion of Japanese and modern Australian cuisine using local produce, which, of course, is challenging given the bushfires. The Sandbar is one of the finest restaurants I've ever had the pleasure of visiting in Australia. I thank them for their wonderful hospitality.

So much of our agricultural sector has suffered. Sometimes referred to as the 'forgotten farmers' in Australia, beekeepers around the country have experienced catastrophic losses because of this devastating summer of bushfires. While in Batemans Bay, I drove up the road a bit and met with Therese and Laurie Kershaw, who drove me to see where these bushfires had ripped through the New South Wales South Coast. The Kershaw family have been beekeepers for generations. Laurie knows those forests like the back of his hand. We drove for miles on the day I visited. It looks like this bushfire burnt forever. They showed me the burnt out sites and forests near Nelligen that used to sustain hundreds and hundreds of beehives. Now there is nothing left. There is no bush, there are no bees, there are no birds. It is all silent. It is difficult to describe the loss beekeepers and the bees have endured, not just the hives but the lost habitat that produces the buds and flowers that feed bees so that they can make the money that we consume. It is really hard to tell how that forest will recover from the devastation.

As we know, bees do much more than produce honey. The importance of honey bees to our lives cannot be understated. The importance of a healthy bee population to this country is critical to how we live and what we eat. Bees carry pollen between plants to fertilise them and help them reproduce. These pollination services can improve agricultural crop yield and quality, with pollination services contributing up to $1,730 million to Australian agricultural production every year. Because of the loss of habitat from the bushfires, Laurie Kershaw now has to import a form of feed for his hundreds of beehives. He tells me that there is no way to tell how a weakened bee population will recover without the stronger natural food of pollen from flowers in the environment.

The strength of his beehives is important to the almond growers in the region, who rely on bees provided by Laurie to pollinate almond tree flowers. The Australian almond industry makes a significant economic contribution, with almond exports worth $552 million every year. The export volume of Australian almonds grew from 54,000 tonnes in 2017-18 to over 60,000 tonnes in 2018-19. The market for this product has changed, with Australian almond exports to China and Hong Kong growing from two per cent of our total almond exports in 2017-18 to 20 per cent in 2018-19. In the last several years alone, the almond industry has undergone significant expansion, with a gradual increase in planting of their orchard stock to 50,000 hectares. But, due to this bushfire season and the loss of bees, this expansion is now at significant risk. While it is impossible to quantify the loss of Australian bees from the summer's bushfire crisis right now, what is clear is that it has had a devastating impact on the health of the existing population and the population overall.

I would like to thank the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Beechworth Honey for introducing me to hardworking and dedicated apiarists like Therese and Laurie Kershaw. I will continue supporting Australia's beekeepers in their recovery efforts as best I can, and I urge all my colleagues in this place to do the same. I urge the whole community to always buy Australian honey. Check your labels. It is the best honey. It is the only sure way you will know you're buying pure honey, and it will support people that are doing it tough after this season. Also look for it at your local markets. I know local honey always costs a bit more, but as an amateur apiarist I can assure you there's a reason for that: you have to invest a lot in the equipment. It's worth every single extra cent you spend on honey to buy it from your local producers.

My own electorate was not immune to this summer's bushfires, though, luckily for us, all fires were quickly contained and damage was minimal. This was due in no small part to the many amazing volunteers across the country that assisted in battling fires, in evacuations and in recovery efforts. Gordon Hall of Secret Harbour in my electorate is one of those integral volunteers. Gordon serves as national chair of the SES Volunteers Association, representing over 30,000 SES volunteers across the nation. Last week, I met with Gordon in my electorate office in Rockingham to discuss the bushfire crisis and listen to his views regarding securing compensation and other help for tireless SES volunteers. Gordon expressed disappointment that the government's response to the bushfire crisis was announced without consultation with the emergency responder peak volunteer bodies. It is imperative that we, as policymakers, listen to Australians like Gordon, who have seen what disasters like the recent bushfire crisis can do on the front line. Volunteers like Gordon represent the best of Australia—mateship, selflessness and courage—and I sincerely thank all the volunteers who have worked over the summer assisting with these bushfires and countless other endeavours to support those on the front line.

In some sad news for my local electorate of Brand, and certainly for my local Rockingham-Safety Bay Labor branch, we had to say goodbye to branch stalwart Terry de San Miguel. Terry was the eldest brother of 10 and father to Norm and Rod. A Hope Valley-Mandogalup stalwart, Terry and the de San Miguel family eventually retired in Shoalwater, my home town. Terry worked on the Fremantle wharf for 30 years before finishing his career at Austal Ships in Henderson. In recent years, he volunteered at the SOUL Soup Patrol in the Rockingham area. Of course, Terry was a very strong Labor supporter and a very active branch member.

Terry was known in the Brand electorate office for his fruit and vegetables—well before I was elected as member for Brand. After a visit to Dwellingup, he'd always come back bearing gifts, often big bags of carrots, leading some in the Brand electorate office to call him 'Vegeterry'! He volunteered for the Labor Party in the state seats of Kwinana and Rockingham and federally in Brand for as long as any of us can remember. Terry was well known for his old MTT bus, which he would park at the Hope Valley polling booth, where he served as booth captain. The bus would, of course, be adorned with as much ALP paraphernalia as possible, and he would provide tea and coffee for all the Labor voters—I'm sure he wouldn't discriminate; Terry would have given tea and coffee to anyone who asked, because he was that kind of guy.

I first met Terry as I embarked on the 2016 election campaign. I knew that Terry could always be counted on to participate in doorknocking and leaflet drops and all the things you do in a campaign. All the little volunteer get-togethers that you have, Terry was always there. On polling day, he was up before dawn, spent all day at the booth and then cleaned up—he was 80 when he was doing that, so I really thank Terry for his work—and then he followed up with a bit of scrutineering to boot. As we know, the 2016 election was in the middle of winter—obviously winter in Perth is not as bad as it is in the eastern states, but it's still pretty cold, and it was very good of Terry to put in that effort all day on a cold winter's morning in Rockingham.

Terry was a family man. He was a good Catholic and, of course, he was a Labor man. In his later years, I would often see Terry down at the St Joseph Chapel, a church in Safety Bay, on Sunday mornings, and I'd like to thank in particular Sister Kathleen and the other sisters at the chapel, who kept an eye on Terry in his later years and made sure he was looked after, kept well and always had a friend to talk to.

I'd also like to thank the wonderful staff at the Aegis nursing home in Shoalwater. They are wonderful people who cared for Terry in the Dolphin Cove ward. I'm very familiar with that ward. It's the dementia ward where my dad spent his last days before his death a number of years ago, and I thank the staff there for the care they gave my father. I know the care they gave Terry would have been the best available. We remember Terry for all that he contributed to the party and to the community, for his vegetables, for his good humour, for his commitment, for his fun and for his great spirit. He was always good to chat to because he was always ready for a chat, and he was a very kind, warm-hearted man. Vale, Terry de San Miguel.