Those opposite must be breathing a sigh of relief that they can blame everything on COVID—that they have no power over anything, that they can't predict it. Hello! We know that there are going to be different versions of COVID that hit us, not just this year but in years to come. There is ample capacity to plan—but not this mob. What they're going to do is blame everything on COVID. They're going to say, 'We don't have enough jobs. Oh, that's because of COVID. We don't have enough workers. Oh, that's because of COVID.' Every problem they come across, every problem we see now and every problem we see in the future, is going to be put down to COVID. But they cannot hide their economic mismanagement behind the veil of COVID.
Let's be really clear. There's a trillion dollars of debt, a figure this country has never before seen. Forget the GFC and the ridiculous allegations that were made during the GFC about a commensurate spend to tackle that. It was the right spend at the right time. This mob have spent a trillion dollars—but it wasn't all on COVID. They can't hide behind COVID here, because two-thirds of that trillion dollars was spent before a single COVID case landed on our shores. It is something that they will hide. They'll pretend it didn't happen, try and rewrite history, but the facts are there for all to see.
I want to talk about workers. This discussion is about how the economic mismanagement happens and how it affects people. Those people are workers and small businesses. Let's talk about workers. I want to talk about real wages, which we know have fallen. Again, this is not just a point of view we have; this is fact. There is evidence. The government's own evidence shows us that real wages have fallen and that they're lower than they were when the Liberals came to office eight years ago. So that's one side of it. The other side of it is how this government has tried to support workers in this second wave of COVID, in the delta wave of COVID. But they haven't bothered to support every worker. They've been very free to say only some workers matter, just as they did with JobKeeper, when arts workers didn't matter, when university workers didn't matter, when local government workers didn't matter.
Let me give you an example of one of the groups that does not matter to this government, and that's 16-year-old apprentices, who are excluded from the COVID disaster payment because of their age. Once they turn 17 they're eligible, but for some reason the effort that a 16-year-old makes as an apprentice isn't worth as much as the effort a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old makes. I know many young apprentices—kids who've got off their backsides, gone out and found an apprenticeship and said, 'This is for me.' They get up early. They work their long days, they study, they help their families financially, and they save for their own future. Travis from Hawkesbury, who lives in South Windsor, is a diesel mechanic who's one of those affected, as is Madison, a 16-year-old full-time apprentice.
Madison wrote to the Treasurer and explained that she's no longer in school and has been stood down without pay from work, from her apprenticeship. She wrote: 'I'm unable to claim COVID disaster payment because of my age. I'm bringing this to your attention as it may not have occurred to you how the age restriction on the COVID payment is affecting apprentices like me around Australia.' She said: 'We've all been working full-time and we're told we have to go on youth allowance. We're losing more than half of our income. However, we still have financial commitments. I would love to hear back from you concerning this issue.' That's nearly a month ago, and the Treasurer hasn't even bothered to get back to Madison. Madison is an electrician apprentice. She wants to work in that trade and she deserves to be supported throughout this time. It's an absolute disgrace that no-one from government has bothered to get back to her. What message does that send to young people?
If small business was as poor at planning as this government is, or spent so wildly, they'd be out of business. For small business to buy something and pay 10 times more than it's worth—that's what this government has done, paying $30 million for land valued at $3 million. This government wouldn't have a hope running a small business, and it's not doing anything to help workers survive this.