House debates

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading

10:34 am

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

The Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 is a black-hearted bill, and Labor are a pack of quislings for supporting it. Just when the opposition should act like an opposition and stand up for the community and the environment, it has rolled over to have its tummy tickled. It is terribly disappointing and it betrays a great many people who voted Labor. This is a black-hearted bill. Well may people come in here and talk about what a good bill it is. Well may the ALP come in here and say how they have amended it to ensure that it is a fair bill, but it is not. Indeed, it contains 20 of the 24 original measures. I will say that again: this bill contains 20 of the 24 original measures. It still cuts over half a billion dollars from ARENA. It abolishes the family tax benefit part A for some people. It cuts the supplement for new mothers. It cuts the energy supplement for some Centrelink recipients. It fails to clarify the future of dental care for the children of low-income families. Every way you look at this bill, it is not supportable, and I will not support it.

I associate myself with the comments from the member for Melbourne, particularly on the environment and the effect of ARENA—I will come back to that in a moment. I will dwell on another issue that the member for Melbourne spoke about—that is, the other ways to repair the budget. I am the first to agree that we need to re-engineer the budget. We are spending more than we are earning. Our debt is increasing. It needs to be re-engineered and it needs to be put on a pathway to balance over the economic cycle. The question is how you balance the budget over the economic cycle. Do you go after the most disadvantaged people in the community? Do you attack the disadvantaged, those on low incomes and the people who cannot stick up for themselves, or do you go after the money where the money is to be had in a fair economy and in a fair community?

What about a superprofits tax? The big four banks, in the first six months of this year, have posted combined profits of some $16,000 million, an enormous sum of money in simple terms and an enormous return on investment. Rather than going after low-income people or their families in the community who are doing it hard, why don't we go after the big four banks and say: 'You are doing all right. You get a lot of support from the government and from this parliament. So when you are doing all right, pay a bit more tax.' That would be the action of a fair government. That would be something for a decent opposition to support.

What about high-wage earners, people like politicians? The sort of money we earn is an almost unfathomable amount of money for most people in the community. Why can't people like us pay a little more income tax? That would be another way to help repair the budget. That would be another fair act of a fair government. That would be something that a decent opposition could support.

What about this bizarre capital gains tax discount? There is a lot of talk about negative gearing but next to no talk about this bizarre arrangement where, after a very short period, people get an inexplicable discount on their capital gains tax. Yes, I do acknowledge that the Labor Party has had something to say on this, and that is good, but what has the government done about it? Nothing; absolutely nothing. These are all the sorts of areas where we can gain additional revenue.

Then we can turn our minds to expenditure. It is very timely that in recent days a report has been released by a number of organisations who have found that the cost of mandatory detention, offshore processing, turn-backs and the failed Cambodia resettlement plan has been almost $10,000 million just in the last three years. Yes, that is right, Mr Deputy Speaker: $9.6 billion to pay for our response to asylum seekers just in three years. It is forecast to be another $5.7 billion—that is, $5,700 million—over the next four years. In other words, it has cost almost $16 billion just to respond to people who are fleeing for their lives and coming to our shores seeking protection. A good government—a government with a heart, a government with a sense of fairness and respect for international law—would not be busting $16,000 million to deal with asylum seekers. That is one area of expenditure which could be reined in immediately, starting with the closure of the Nauru immigration detention centre.

What about our defence build-up? I do not think I could be called a dove. I served this country in uniform for 20 years and I served in the intelligence community for some years after that. I have a realistic understanding of national security and of the need to have a defence force and equip our soldiers properly. But what on earth are we doing talking about spending $30 billion over the next 10 years on top of our existing Defence budget? There is no way that can be defended. When we are trying to get the budget back into order, when we are taking money off some of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our community, there is no way we can turn around and say, 'By the way, we are going to spend $30,000 million extra over the next 10 years on a defence build-up.' We are not keeping the budget at existing levels and replacing platforms as they reach their use-by date but building it up. Then we will look at our neighbours and criticise them for joining in our arms race.

What is this about doubling our submarine fleet? At a time when we need to get the budget back into good shape, at a time when this government, supported by the quisling opposition, is going after some of the most disadvantaged members of the community, we are going to double our submarine fleet—when we can't even crew the fleet we have now! It does not make any sense.

Yes, let's re-engineer the budget, let's rein in unnecessary and wasteful expenditure, let's look for efficiencies and other ways in which we can raise additional revenue to fund the needs of this country, but let's do it in a fair way. Let's not go after disadvantaged people and people on low incomes. Let's not go after the children with crook teeth in low-income families. Yes, I note that the ALP, to their credit, have sought to address this in some way in their negotiations with the government, but no-one knows what the answer is yet. No-one can have any confidence that there will be a good outcome from this or, indeed, that there will be an effective dental scheme for the kids in low-income families.

Now let me turn my attention to the environment. I am very pleased that the member for Melbourne spent quite some time on this, because when you look at all the challenges facing this country there can be no doubt that the greatest single challenge, the one thing that jeopardises our future and the future of our kids and their kids, is climate change. Kevin Rudd was quite right to call it the greatest moral challenge. I do not think people in this place have their minds around that. I think too many people in this place still think that climate change is 'crap', or they believe in it but they do not understand the enormity of the problem and the challenge that faces us, or they understand it a bit but they like to say the right thing now and then just to keep the community happy. I do not think that, as a parliament, we get it. I do not think we understand the changes that are coming our way in our lifetime, the changes that are coming the way of people right around the world, in particular in many countries in our region, and the need to do everything in our power to deal with climate change.

Yes, let's set ambitious goals. When I talked at the recent election about the sorts of targets I personally want, I was always greeted with approval and applause—or approval at least; sometimes applause. I would say to my community back home in Hobart, in my electorate of Denison, 'We should be aiming for 100 per cent net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy by 2030.' Some people would say to me: 'Don't be silly! That's beyond what all the parties say. It's just not possible.' I would say to them: 'It is possible. It is possible for a country with ambition. It is possible for a country led by inspiring leaders.' For heaven's sake, the United States, 50 years ago, put someone on the moon from scratch in about half a decade, all because a president and a government said: 'Let's go for it! Let's do it!' And they did it. If we had that sort of mindset in this country, if we went for it, we could do it. We would be the global leader. Not only would we be doing the right thing for our community and our environment; we would be leading the rest of the world and showing them what can be done in a rich and lucky country with inspiring leadership.

Instead, what are we talking about today? We are talking about the government, with this black-hearted bill supported by the quisling opposition, cutting $550 million from ARENA. That is a remarkable betrayal of the Australian community and the public interest and the environment. But then, why would I be surprised? Because it was the Labor opposition that voted with the Liberal-National government to reduce the mandatory renewable energy target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours. So it turns out a lot of people like to come in here and give all the grand speeches and say all the right things, but when the big decisions are to be had, when the votes are to be put, everyone just turns to water and worries about money and the budget. That is why they are cutting $550 million from ARENA. That is why the government during the election campaign basically wanted to gut the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to turn it into a slush fund for its election promises, because at the end of the day neither the government nor the opposition are really fair dinkum about the environment. If they were fair dinkum about the environment, if they were fair dinkum about our very existence as we know it is threatened by climate change, they would not be putting this in the bill and the opposition would not be supporting it. This is a terrible betrayal.

Let us just think about climate change for a minute. We are already seeing it. We are already seeing in Australia more extreme weather events more often, and that will become more and more commonplace. There will be more droughts. There will be more bushfires. There will be more cyclones. There will be more flooding. We will start to see more and more diseases appear in parts of the country where they have never been seen before. In our region we will see increasing instability as sea-level rise results in mass dislocation of communities, particularly in the low-lying microstates in the Pacific and the low-lying river deltas in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. We will see wars over water supply. We will see all this because of climate change. When my two little daughters are older and they ask me: 'Dad, what did you achieve in your life? What did you fight for? What you have to say when it really mattered?' I will have to say that far too often I walked into a room and worked with men and women and debated issues about which that group failed our nation and our community.

If I seem to be spending a lot of awful time on climate change in a debate about the omnibus bill, it is because I, like the member for Melbourne, want to make it absolutely clear that at the end of the day it is vitally important to look after community, to provide the essential services and income for disadvantaged and low-income people. To do all of those things is a vital role for government, as is keeping them safe. But the biggest threat coming down the highway at us is climate change, and when I look at the omnibus bill I see the cut of $550 million from ARENA as being biggest single betrayal in the bill. For that reason alone, I will not support this bill. I would hope that I am joined by others—I suspect the member for Melbourne and I hope others will join me.

I started by describing this as a black-hearted bill. I think it gives us an insight into a government that also is black hearted. It gives us an insight into the approach of the opposition in this parliament. I called them quislings and I mean that. This was a time to take a stand; to stand and fight for the people who voted for you, like I am trying to do right now. Your coming in here and supporting a bill which you spent so long criticising and which still contains 20 of its original 24 measures makes you a pack of quislings.


No comments