Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
Without amendments, the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 is a bad bill because it attacks low-income earners and kids dental, and it is a bad bill with amendments because it attacks clean energy. At a time when we should be putting more money into clean energy, we are being asked to quickly pass through parliament a dirty deal done between Labor and Liberal that takes the axe to renewable energy.
It is no excuse to say, 'Oh, well, somehow these cuts aren't as bad as they might have been.' Labor found it in its heart to say no to some of the measures but apparently not to all, because apparently it is okay to cut half a billion dollars out of renewable energy—which is what Labor has just done. Apparently it is okay not to say no to the cuts to research and development, which is what Labor has just done. And apparently it is okay to give the green light to cuts to student support, to aged care, to newly-arrived migrants and to student scholarships, because that is what Labor has just done.
We have been saying for some time, as the Greens, that we need to secure this country's revenue base. If we want to fund the services that Australians rightly expect and to invest more in clean energy then, yes, we need to find the money from somewhere. The question is: where do you find it from? At the moment we spend several billion dollars a year just so that the likes of Gina Rinehart can put cheap diesel into trucks on their mining sites. We give a tax break to the very wealthy in sectors that, frankly, do not need it.
By removing one simple measure, by saying to the likes of Gina Rinehart, 'You should pay the same tax on your diesel as everyone else in this country pays on their petrol,' we could have raised three times as much as the saving in this package. That is the kind of spine that Labor could have shown to the government, because that is what the Greens have said to the government. This package is not the right way to balance the budget, because in 2016 there are fairer and better ways of balancing the budget than taking the money from clean energy, or taking the money from students or taking the money from newly arrived migrants. But no: Labor has said, 'We are happy to rip half a billion dollars out of world-leading renewable energy research in this country.'
Let us talk about ARENA. What is ARENA? The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is something that was set up by the Greens and Labor in the power-sharing parliament back in 2010. Its job is to take new and innovative projects in the renewable energy space. One might be the printable solar cells that they are developing, where you can print solar cells onto surfaces as diverse as banknotes or fabric. You can print them straight onto corrugated iron so that your roof becomes a solar panel—you do not need to put a solar panel on your roof; the roof is the solar panel. That is the kind of thing that ARENA funds.
ARENA looks at battery technology and says, 'How can we make sure that instead of building new coal fired power stations we can put batteries into businesses and households and make those affordable so that we can store the power that our solar panels generate during the day and save it overnight?' That is the kind of thing that ARENA does. ARENA also says, 'Let's look at some of these large-scale solar projects that can now, and will be able to in the future, replace coal fired power stations.' That is what ARENA does. It gives money to projects that are in an early stage so that they can prove themselves and then become commercial and viable in their own right.
That is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing, and it is exactly what Australians want government money to be spent on. The government says, 'Well, we don't like that. We want to rip over a billion dollars out of it.' And Labor says, 'Well, we kind of like it. Let's just only rip half a billion dollars out of it and call it a victory.' It is not a victory when you take half a billion dollars out of renewable energy. That is not a victory; that is handing a blank cheque to the government to gut renewable energy in this country.
And the more that we find out about this dirty deal that Labor and the Liberals did yesterday the more we understand why they did not want to have a public inquiry into this bill—one of the very few instances that I can remember where Labor and Liberal have got together and said, 'There will be no public hearings into this bill. We don't want any sunlight shone on it.' Well now we see why, because not only is half a billion dollars ripped out but it seems that almost all of that half a billion comes in the next three years. So on our analysis, of the $517 million that Labor has said they are going to give the government a blank cheque to cut, $514 million comes in the next three years. At the very time when this agency is saying, 'We need the money now to give confidence to the industry so that we can grow renewable energy projects and grow renewable energy jobs'—things like solar thermal in Port Augusta or large-scale wind farms just outside of Canberra—Labor signs up to a deal to gut half a billion dollars, almost all of the savings, in the next three years.
That is the dirty deal that has been done, but it gets even worse—we have not even spoken about the con. No sooner had Labor signed up to this deal from the government than two government ministers go out yesterday afternoon and say, 'Actually it's all right because, yes, we've left $800 million in the ARENA bucket, but we're going to find that $800 million from another clean energy project.' Labor says, 'No, that wasn't the deal,' and the government says, 'Well, we're the government and that's what we're going to do.' Finance minister Cormann and energy minister Frydenberg said yesterday, 'We're going to offset this money that Labor has supposedly saved for ARENA by not spending it on another project over here in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.' So this amazing deal that has been done has allowed, in the government's mind, no net change. You have not saved renewable energy, Labor; you have helped kill it. If you had the courage to stand up and say, 'No cuts to some of the low-income earners'—not all, mind you; you are happy in this bill to take the axe to students and newly arrived migrants—why did you not have the courage to stand with the Greens and say, 'No cuts to renewable energy'?
It is very, very easy, as Labor and Liberal are wont to do, to talk about bipartisanship and the benefit of it, but the only bipartisanship we are seeing is cuts. When it came to the question of renewable energy, Labor and Liberal agreed in the last parliament to cut the Renewable Energy Target. In most countries if you set yourself a target for renewable energy and you are on track to exceed it, you would see it as a sign of success. The government said, 'Oh, we've got too much renewable energy—it's doing more than we expected; we need to cut the target,' and Labor went and agreed with them. That was the first outbreak of bipartisanship: a cut to Australia's Renewable Energy Target. Now we are seeing another outbreak of bipartisanship where they are cutting the amount of money going to renewable energy in this country. When the climate groups and the country call out for bipartisanship on climate change they want more action to be taken, not less. It is very easy for Labor and Liberal to agree on cutting renewable energy; what is harder is getting Labor and Liberal to agree to put more money into renewable energy or to have higher targets and to get more renewable energy.
So then we have these crawling words coming from Labor afterwards, suggesting, 'Oh, it's all right, we're going to have discussions with the minster and at some point in the future we might be able to get more money back into renewable energy.' The first thing the minister did after you signed this deal was go out with his finance minister and say, 'We're taking $800 million from somewhere else,' sending a strong message to their backbench: 'It's okay; we've conned Labor.' Labor has been conned. They have fallen for a pea-and-thimble trick, and you need look no further than the boasting of the finance minister and the energy minister to see that.
So what would it mean to have budget savings that come from the top end of town? We can start by saying: 'Maybe in our superannuation system, where it costs us $30 billion a year in tax breaks, most of which go to very wealthy top income earners, we do not need to be giving people on over $100,000 a tax break to save for their retirement at quite the same level as we have so far; let's wind that back a bit.' There is a few billion dollars a year. We have talked a bit about fuel tax credits before, but maybe we can say to wealthy mining companies, 'You do not need to get a tax break for accelerated depreciation of your property; you're doing all right, we think.' There is another couple of billion dollars. Maybe we could say to the big banks, 'You make world-leading record profits off the back of implicit subsidies that the IMF has valued at a couple of billion dollars a year.' The IMF—not the most left-wing organisation that I know of—has said: 'Australia gives the big four banks effectively a couple of billion dollars in subsidies every year. Maybe you should look at winding back some of it or charging them for it.' If you did that—if we stood up to the big banks—there is a couple of billion dollars a year. There are plenty of ways of finding money without hitting everyday Australians, but it requires the courage to stand up to the top end of town.
It requires courage. That is what is remarkably lacking from this government, but you would expect that from this government because they do nothing more than the bidding of big business. But you would expect a bit more courage from Labor. You would expect Labor to say, 'Instead of taking money from students by taking the axe to student start-up scholarships or other forms of student support, maybe we will go after Gina Rinehart.' But, no, quite happily, despite all the bluff and bluster during the election campaign about Malcolm Turnbull being unfair, they have just agreed to Malcolm Turnbull's measures. And it is worse than that because many of those are Tony Abbott's measures.